The “czar” steps up to the line, preparing to serve. Sweat drenches his T-shirt. A thwack, and the ball clears the net easily, landing deep on the other side of the court. The rally that ensues takes seconds.
In about a year’s time, Bo Barbrow, 68, has become a tournament-level player in pickleball, a combination of tennis and other racket sports. Some refer to it as “pingpong on steroids.” Others call it a less-intense alternative to racquetball.
But for Barbrow and about 50 others at the State College YMCA, it’s a sport that anyone can play, regardless of age or ability. Barbrow may head to tournaments now, but he learned like anyone else: through observation and practice.
“It’s so low impact, but you’re moving a lot,” said Barbrow, a retired teacher. “People who wouldn’t do the weight room, here they get a good exercise and they look forward to it, so it keeps people staying active.”
Known as the “Pickleball Czar” around here, Barbrow, along with the staff, has helped grow the game in Centre County. At the State College YMCA, 677 W. Whitehall Road, the game has developed into a near-daily exercise for some members, with play going on six days a week. When the weather’s nice, the players also make use of the inline hockey rink outside, setting up nets and getting in their pickleball fix.
“I said, ‘I’ll try it once,’ and I loved it,” said Susan Rogacs, who began playing about a year ago. “I make time for it now.”
Rogacs now plays four days a week.
Josh Cone, the healthy living director at the YMCA, said the activity has been growing in popularity among all age groups, but especially with seniors and families. The programs are free for members and SilverSneakers participants.
“It’s been a really good group of people who you’ve seen develop friendships and relationships and enjoy the competitive atmosphere,” Cone said. “Bo, he’s brought a lot of people in off the street, in off the treadmill, and explaining it to them and teaching them the ropes.”
The members enjoy the fast-paced but accessible nature of the game. For Barbrow, it’s a game where he can not only keep up with much-younger players, but teach them a few lessons, too.
“It just irks them that 68-year-olds beat them,” he said, laughing. “Age doesn’t matter.”