If anybody knows how to serve, it’s the Lions. They’ve been acing it for more than 100 years.

But serving in pickleball, now that’s a relatively new thing, and Lions who try it are getting stuck on it like syrup on pancakes.

Pickleballin’ in the Midwest

“Lifelong friendships are made out of this,” Lion Curt Goke in Minnesota says of both Lions and pickleball. Goke, 77, a member of the Eden Prairie Lions Club since 2017, plays pickleball three times a week and teaches beginners after church on Sundays. He has competed in 43 tournaments and played in at least 70 venues. His wife, Jane, equally as active, qualified to play in the 2019 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships.

Pickleball has also created new fundraising opportunities for clubs. The sport is so popular in Goke’s town that the Eden Prairie Lions partnered with the Twin City Pickleball Club to sponsor a tournament as part of the Lions’ biggest fundraiser, the annual Schooner Days. Pickleball registration filled in early April for the June event.

When Curt and Jane swapped their racquetball racquets for pickleball paddles about 14 years ago, few people knew what the sport was. Now all ages vie for time on the courts.

A hybrid of badminton, tennis and ping-pong, pickleball has been the fastest growing sport in the U.S. for three years running, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. It is played in almost every country.

Serving up fun and fitness on the East Coast

In New Hampshire, Ron Farina, a member of the Keene Lions Club, has enjoyed seeing the sport’s popularity explode. Farina is a USA Pickleball Association Ambassador and proud to say he has played on the courts at Bainbridge Island, Washington, where the sport was founded. For about 50 years he was happy with tennis, playing every week, indoors or out, with his friend, Rich.

Couple on Court Farina

“One day Rich said he was switching to pickleball. How would you like to come to a pickleball lesson?” Farina recalls. “I took that one lesson, and I couldn’t believe the workout and how much fun it was. I played one more game of tennis and I never went back.”

Farina was soon playing pickleball six days a week on a tennis court with markings for pickleball. Off court he found himself dreaming about converting two of the city’s old tennis courts into six pickleball courts.

A Keene Lion for 53 years, he is known in his club and his community as a man who gets things done. Anxious to make his dream happen for the city of Keene, he began meeting with Lions and city leaders to educate them on pickleball — not just how fun it is, but how it can be used to increase awareness of diabetes and the importance of exercise. Eventually some of his listeners tried the sport, came back to the table, and supported his efforts.

In 2016, the Keene Lions donated US$15,900 to have six new courts installed as one of four legacy initiatives marking the 100-year anniversary of Lions International. Farina’s list of people either interested in learning the game or getting time on a court had grown to include 350 email addresses.

Now 85, balance problems are keeping Farina off the courts, but he hopes his daily exercises will help him ease back into playing. He recently gave his job as chairman of the Keene Lions Pickleball Jamboree to a new, young Lion who also loves the game and was eager to get more involved.

In addition, the sport has brought new Lions into the club. Steve Gyory was newly retired when he moved to Keene from New Jersey and joined pickleball to meet people. Wanting to be more active in helping the community, he also explored service organizations in town. One day on the court he asked Farina, “Hey, how can I get involved with Lions?” Today, Gyory is president of the Keene Lions Club.

“When we first opened the gate for the new courts, all six were immediately filled and there were people waiting. The courts continue to be in constant use,” says Farina.

“People come 20 miles to play. It’s about community, camaraderie and exercise. It’s just fun to play.”