Pickleball levels the playing field

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There’s a new game in town that will have kids at this summer’s Camp Rise Up dinking around the campus in Rhinebeck, N.Y.

Dinking, you say? That’s just one of the terms (and shots) campers will learn when they pick up their paddles and jump on the pickleball bandwagon, the sports craze that’s sweeping the nation.

Now, thanks to the prowess of Floating Hospital adviser Richard Porter, who is also founder of InPickleball magazine, health educators running the camp have been trained to dink, chop, flabjack and falafel so they can teach kids the same.

A member of The Floating Hospital’s marketing committee, Porter first got the idea after a presentation on the clinic’s work in Social Determinants of Health, which includes exercise and recreation as a pillar of wellbeing. With the game’s ease of entry, he saw the opportunity to mingle sport, philanthropy and a hot trend.

“Pickleball is really part of cultural zeitgeist,” he says, adding the game is “great for our kids” because “they’re not left out” of a sport they can’t afford.

Unlike expensive sports that come with a hefty price tag for gear, coaches and court time, pickleball requires no more than a paddle, a Wiffle-like ball and a pair of sneakers. And though there are official pickleball courts, kids can DIY the 40 x 20-foot space needed to play on pretty much any flat surface, in or outdoors. Even the net doesn’t have to be an actual net—it can be a chalk line or a string. And, because the rules dictate that players stay 7 feet away from the net, or line, it’s perfect for social distancing.

graphic with quote about pickleball from dick porter
graphic with quote, people playing pickleball, and a child smiling

Through the Association of Professional Pickleball, Porter arranged for Floating Hospital health educators to attend a special training at May’s Franklin New York City Open Tournament at Flushing Meadows. Professional pickleball instructors volunteered as coaches, Adidas donated paddles, Acacia Sports donated sneakers, and InPickleball magazine distributed T-shirts made specially for the day. Then, in July, with court space and time offered gratis by Long Island City’s Court 16, more sneaker love from Acacia Sports, signature tees from InPickelball and equipment compliments of Franklin Sporting Goods, campers received a training session of their own as prep for Camp Rise Up in August.

“I think it will catch on with people who even don’t like sports. It gets kids outside and not playing video games,” says Director of Health Education Meghan Miller. “It’s easy and you don’t need much to play and have a good time.”

Calling it “the accessible cousin to tennis,” Porter says “It’s my hope that we continue this in the fall and beyond,” and dreams one day of a Camp Rise Up team competing in the Franklin tournament. And why not? Anna Leigh Waters, the No. 1 one female player in the country, is 15 years old.

“But the crux of it is that the game is really fun and it’s the perfect exercise for these kids,” Porter said. “It has a silly name—pickleball!—and that makes it even more fun.”

— Amy Zavatto

This post featured in our monthly newsletter from July 2022.

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Since 1866, The Floating Hospital has been the largest provider of healthcare and education to families living with homelessness. Based in Long Island City, it provides comprehensive primary, dental and behavioral-health services, and health-education to patients living in more than 300 shelters and domestic violence safe houses throughout New York City.

In 2021, The Floating Hospital moved into a new modern main clinic in Long Island City, and continues to support patients in satellite clinics at family homeless shelters and public housing complexes in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

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