by Melissa LaScaleia
Bill Hunsberger lives in Leitersburg, Maryland. But the indomitable 87-year-old vacations at his home away from home in Myrtle Beach several times a year. And when he does, he’s almost certain to play pickleball.
The sport is now the fastest-growing in the country, claiming a following of almost 5 million and counting; the number of players has nearly doubled since 2014. Pickleball has ushered in a new era of fitness and fun, and has begun to replace tennis in popularity amongst younger and older generations alike.
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, 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.
The game has rapidly become a household name across the U.S., but perhaps nowhere more so than in Myrtle Beach, where an active baby-boomer generation has readily embraced it.
“I never heard about it until 2013 when it was introduced to me at the Hagerstown, Maryland YMCA,” says Bill. “I knew pretty quickly it was something I wanted to pursue; I like racket sports. It started spreading around the local community and soon there were a lot of us playing.”
Around the same time, Bill’s wife, Sylvia, developed Alzheimers disease. As her disease progressed and nurses came to their home during the week to assist, Bill would go to the Y and play pickleball to clear his mind.
“It gave me the chance to talk to other people,” he says. “It’s a very social sport— way more so than tennis. I found out other people were also struggling with problems, and they found being out and about with other people was good for them too.”
Bill has been active his entire life. He jumped horses until he was 15; when he was in his twenties he took up skiing, and was on ski patrol for eighteen years. He also pursued sailing, windsurfing, hang gliding, tennis, and now, pickleball.
“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 to develop skill.”