Part of the appeal for platform tennis lies in making winter fun
Updated: April 13, 2012 4:59PM
Last week I stepped way, way out of my so-called comfort zone when I picked up a racquet and repeatedly tried to hit a ball with it. I was one of seven women taking an introductory platform tennis lesson at the Katherine Legge Memorial Park platform tennis courts, though, truthfully, I was really there for the social hour and refreshments which followed as well as for the opportunity to find a topic for this column.
I accomplished all those things. Even though I avidly avoid any activity in which hand-eye coordination is required, I learned about platform tennis’ beauty and appeal and what is special about the sport in this community. I even had a little fun.
I was part of a group of loosely knit women who share university connections and meet two or three times a year to socialize and engage in some activity. Learning platform tennis — or as it is casually called “paddle” — was the activity planned originally because fellow alumnae in the North Shore have their own paddle league, though it is unlikely we’ll be playing them any time soon.
We were particularly fortunate to have as our instructor Mary Doten, a six-time national platform tennis champion. She also runs the Hinsdale Park and Recreation Department’s platform tennis programs and heads up the Hinsdale Paddle Association. She is a patient, thorough and encouraging teacher and was herself getting ready for the 2012 National Championship held on Long Island this past weekend.
She explained that our community is unique in having easy access to public platform tennis courts as paddle is most often played in private country clubs, limiting the number of people who play and the leagues in which they can participate.
Platform tennis is a caged-in and smaller version of “regular” tennis. It is considered a winter sport, with the courts built on platforms with heated flooring that will melt snow and ice, though it does not supply warmth. Players dress in layers. The scoring is just like tennis, but unlike tennis, the person serving only has one try. The platform tennis net is only a few inches shorter than its tennis counterpart, and unlike tennis, the ball can skim of the net and still be in play. Players use the chicken-wire-like screens surrounding the court to play also which adds another element of fun and challenge to the game.
With the typical Chicago winter being long, some might even use the term “endless,” Doten said, paddle players aren’t depressed or confined to the great indoors. Rather, she said, “You can be outside any day from zero degrees on up and still be having fun.” According to Doten, “A gray day is a good paddle day.”
Most paddle enthusiasts are people who enjoy playing sports outside whether it is tennis and golf in the warmer months or invigorating paddle in winter’s chill.
Julia Wade, who arranged our group lesson last week, had played paddle before and really enjoys it. She was a tennis player who took up the sport several years ago when Hinsdale’s only courts were the ones in Burns Field. She remembers playing on a winter day in which the schools were closed, the temperatures were forbidding and yet her paddle group got together to play.
Despite the cold, “inevitably, you peel a layer off,” she said. She is drawn to paddle because it is a fast-paced game but not quite as intense as tennis. She has found it a great way to meet new people in the community, too and said that people can start to play the game right away — they don’t need to learn a bunch of special skills.
“I would definitely think about pursuing it,” said Sue Rose, who like this writer was trying it for the first time last week. “I thought it was really fun.”
That it is a competitive sport, but not as strenuous or demanding as some others, also appeals to her.
Early spring and late fall are great times to take paddle lessons, according to Doten. For one reason, newcomers to the sport aren’t thinking too much about winter’s chill, but for another the ball is a little livelier in the warmer weather so it makes learning to hit it off screens and to serve and return it a little easier. Novices can move quickly in to league play and from there into the different levels before advancing to one of the travel teams.
The women have six travel teams and the men have 16. The next set of Platform Tennis lessons are scheduled for April 8 through May 13.
For more information about the Hinsdale Park and Recreation’s paddle tennis lessons, visit www.villageofhinsdale.org/pr or phone (630) 789-7090. For more information about the Hinsdale Paddle Association, visit www.hinsdalepaddle.com.
Readers may contact Sara Clarkson by leaving a message at (630) 320-5448 or by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.