There are all sorts of reasons for playing pickleball, and it's one of the fastest growing sports.

It's a good exercise for anyone, but it's especially nice for seniors who might be slowing down and have a hard time getting around a tennis court.

The pickleball court is about half the size of a tennis court, which means less ground to cover. And most of the time doubles is preferred in pickleball which reduces the amount of court to cover.

The pickle ball, which is a wiffle ball, can't be hit as hard as a tennis ball. The paddle is smaller than a tennis racket and bigger than a ping pong racket.

People also play pickleball for the socialization.

That is especially prevalent in the St. Peter leagues, which are held Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at Veterans Park and Wednesdays at the St. Peter Community Center in the summer and Monday, Wednesday, Fridays and Sunday nights in the St. Peter Community Center in the winter.

It's like one big party with players joking around with each other after nearly every point.

Patricia Koch, 55, of St. Peter, started playing inside last year and plays outside this summer.

"I love this pickleball group in St. Peter because it's great exercise and everybody has the attitude that we're going to have fun," Koch said. "You will hear so much laughter. We laugh at ourselves and at each other all the time. So it's very social. Sometimes we have some youngsters come in their 20s. Then we have the grandkids that play sometimes."

Playing doubles, they switch partners and opponents every game to get to know each other.

"It doesn't matter your level," Koch said. "We're all very accommodating whether you're a beginner or advanced. But we've got some real good players. We welcome beginners. I would love to see where they have their own court. Most of us started a year and half to two years ago."

Dave Skramstad, 68, St. Peter, expanded his number of friends by playing pickleball since last May. 

"I only knew two or three of these people when I started, and now I know them all," he said. "The exercise and the camaraderie are the two biggest things and the sport itself. I never used to play tennis, but I played ping pong. It's a lot like ping pong. It's like playing ping pong on a tennis court. It's a lot of fun."

Pickleball players love the sport so much they go through pain to play.

The oldest St. Peter pickleball player, Ron Doty, 76, of Lake Washington in Kasota Township, had double knee replacement, and she's so addicted to pickleball that he got back playing seven weeks later. 

"It's amazing to play pickleball with two brand new knees in two months," Skramstad said. 

Skramstad just got a knee brace to keep playing pickleball, and it's relieved his pain. "I couldn't walk for a day and half."

Milt Deutsch, 73, of Le Center, started playing pickleball six years ago in Arizona in the winter. He is in his first year playing in St. Peter.

"It's an active sport that if you can walk, you can play," Milt said. "That's better than sitting in front of the TV. They're all friendly and call you by name. It doesn't make any difference if you win or lose. 

Pickleball players are classified by their ability from 1.5 to 5.0. Milt is a 2.5, an intermediate player. 

Charles Johnson, 74, of Norseland, in his third year playing, also thinks its a fun way to exercise. He is a semiretired farmer.

"It gets you out and moving," Johnson said. "It's really great, a fun bunch. Most of us have played together for the last couple of years. I'm in pretty good shape, not too many aches and pains.

"Retirement is OK, but that gets old, too, when you're not doing anything. But that's why I play pickleball. It gives you something to do. 

"It's a smaller court than tennis, so you don't have to run as much. You can make it pretty hard work if you play hard enough. Sometimes you get a really long rally. It's a long game out in the sun." 

The St. Peter Recreation daytime league started out in 2017 with two players. It grew to eight to 10 regular players in 2018 and 12 to 17 in 2019.

The evening league had too many players for one night, so it opened up to two nights in 2017. It had 20-25 players in 2018 and about 20 in 2019.

The morning outdoor league started out three years ago with a half dozen people. Now it's grown to 28, with more welcome to expand the number of days people can play.

St. Peter Recreation provides paddles and balls for indoor and outdoor leagues.

Pickleball leagues are also held in Le Sueur, Waseca and Mankato.

Reach Sports Editor Pat Beck at 931-8566 or follow him on Twitter.com @SPHSportsPat.

St. Peter Herald Sports Editor covers St. Peter, Cleveland, Le Center, Le Sueur-Henderson and Tri-City United and Gustavus Adolphus College. Fishing, tennis and golf enthusiast

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