“The first time I ever heard of pickleball,” Bill Hunsberger, the 81-year-old champion tells me, “was four years ago when they introduced it at my local YMCA.”
Bill lives in Hagerstown, Maryland, but he’s no stranger to Myrtle Beach. His grandfather was William S. Buckland, a dashing, mover and shaker entrepreneur from Norristown, Pennsylvania who served alongside Teddy Rosevelt in the Spanish American War.
In 1927, Buckland was invited to Myrtle Beach about the prospect of a property investment.
“It was the roaring 20s,” Bill says. “And people thought Myrtle Beach was on the verge of becoming something big.”
Bill’s grandfather bought 600-700 acres of oceanfront property from a group of tobacco farmers who didn’t see the land as valuable because it couldn’t be farmed. The land was so dense with trees, you couldn’t even get to the ocean. All that existed by way of navigating through it were a couple of scanty, dirt tracks.
At the time of William’s death, the property had not been paid off, and reverted to the bank. Bill’s father, a dentist, bought it back in 1942. Several years later, his father built a family cottage on the land between Garden City and Surfside Beach. Bill has memories of regular seaside trips as a child.
“I remember my dad had to put a road in to get to the beach house,” Bill says.
“You couldn’t see anybody in either direction when you were on the beach, that’s how deserted it was.”
As an adult, Bill didn’t take many vacations. But in the past 20 years, he’s enjoyed coming to Myrtle Beach several times a year for a few weeks. When he comes down, one of the places he plays pickleball at is Crabtree Gym in the Market Common. Bill appreciates how nice and welcoming the staff are at Crabtree— especially for someone who, like him, was just starting out in the sport.
“Crabtree is a must-stop on your pickleball list,” he tells me.
Pickleball has begun to replace tennis in popularity amongst the baby boomer population. It’s similar to tennis in that it’s played on a court with a net, but opponents use paddles rather than rackets. It’s quick, fun, good exercise, and lends itself to greater sociability around the court because of the way players rotate through the game; and it doesn’t require you to run as far as in tennis.
“They say there are three million people playing pickleball in the U.S.,” he tells me. “And they estimate that in 2 years there will be 8 million.”
Bill has been active his entire life. His sports have included riding and jumping horses, tennis, sailing, windsurfing, hang gliding and sailing.
“I’m not a big guy, and I like any sport where competition and skill are more important than the size of the individual,” he says. “With pickleball, success is not so much about size as it is team effort. It’s an easy game to learn, but like any sport, you have to practice. When I play for two hours straight, it’s a good workout.”
Bill’s skill is self-taught. By the end of his first year, he was playing in the Seaside Classic, Myrtle Beach’s Annual Pickleball Tournament, where he won his first medal.
This year’s Seaside Classic will be held September 22-24 at the Myrtle Beach Indoor Sports Center. This is the 5th Annual Seaside Classic, and over 300 players are expected to compete. The Seaside Classic is run by pickleball specialists out of Florida, but volunteers from the Myrtle Beach Pickleball Club, which has over 200 members, are instrumental in bringing this tournament to fruition.
“We’re local and so there’s a lot we can do to help,” Audrey Connery, a club member tells me. “We help organize everything in advance, and break things down at the end, and we try to make this a very successful tournament for all those who participate.”
Audrey works on sponsorship, and so far she has around twenty sponsors (including us). Dave and Busters, an arcade-entertainment style restaurant and bar will be hosting the welcome party on Friday evening, September 22. They are providing free game play coupons and appetizers for registered players, but all are welcome.
The Seaside Classic is not just for expert players— there are several skill levels and age brackets. People come from all over the U.S. to see or participate in the tournament; it is one of the largest on the East Coast.
Bill has two new partners for the event. Both are 70 years old, which means he’ll have to play in the younger and therefore more challenging age bracket of 70-74; they don’t have an age bracket old enough to accommodate him.
This past June, Bill and his partner won a gold medal at the National Senior Games competing against twelve other teams in the 80-84 age bracket.
“When people ask me how I do it,” he says, “this is what I tell them: there are some things in life that you don’t have control over, like the hand you’re dealt. If you get a good hand, that’s big. I did. The next big thing is nutrition, and the third, is exercise. You need to keep your body strong. I was a psychotherapist, and almost every person I saw, I recommended they exercise because it keeps you strong and it helps you cope with stress mentally.
“And then, there’s luck. And sometimes the situation that you’re in dictates if you have good luck or bad luck. So for example, if you’re driving in snow, and you start to slide, if you know how to handle the situation and come out okay, we say, ‘you’re lucky,’ but really it’s skill and luck that saved you. Some luck you can’t help, like disease. Two other things I would suggest: you have to have a good sense of humor or you’ll never make it. The last one would be patience. Over my lifetime, I’ve been a hyperactive guy, and patience hasn’t been easy for me. You have to be patient sometimes when you’re going to hit a ball. My goal is that by the time I’m 90, I’ll be more patient.”
What does he hold as his future goal in the pickleball arena?
“I’m hoping somebody will endorse me who sells Geritol,” he says.
The 5th Annual Seaside Classic Pickleball Tournament, 2115 Farlow Street, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina 29577 is Friday-Sunday, September 22 – 24. Entrance is free all weekend, parking $5. Register at www.pickleballtournaments.com. Registration closes September 4.
www.mbpickleballclub.com to learn more about pickleball.
Crabtree Gym, 1004 Crabtree Ln, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577, 843-918-2355.
To read more about things going on in and around the Market Common, visit our events section!