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Meeting up for pickleball at Coquina Key Park

Veteran pickleball players welcoming newcomers and doling out helpful tips lure beginners to the six courts at Coquina Key Park on Sunday nights.

“When you are a beginner, it can be tough to just jump into recreational play at the local parks,” Pickleball St. Pete organizer Graham D’Amico said. “This is a place to get started, learn the sport and meet other beginners with similar lifestyles and pickleball goals.”

Noting that players continue to get younger, D’Amico quipped, “It’s the Benjamin Button of sports,” alluding to the character portrayed by Brad Pitt in a 2008 movie with a reverse-aging storyline.

Organizer Graham D’Amico (seated at left) is joined by managers Jayne Barris and Derek Rutherford.

On a more serious note, D’Amico lauded the efforts of Derek Rutherford and Jayne Barris, who manage the Sunday sessions.

“Feedback is extremely positive and that is credit to the amazing job that Derek and Jayne do,” he said.

Rutherford, a former football coach in Illinois, watched pickleball at fences before taking up the sport in the spring of 2022. He relishes watching pickleball players, who not long ago were newcomers, now helping others showing up for the first time.

One player has to reach high for a return during a doubles match at Coquina Key Park.

“They make it extremely welcoming and inviting,” Rutherford said. “That’s what I want to keep going. The greatest experience from pickleball is the personal connections.”

Barris, a 67-year-old retiree who has lived in St. Petersburg since 2012, came to a beginner’s meetup in October 2021. Now, she hosts sessions and volunteers at Coquina Key Park and the J.W. Cate Recreation Center.

“Pickleball is one of the best ways to connect with people,” she said. “I’ve seen firsthand the friendships that have developed.”

One player blocks the ball before it could hit his face.

D’Amico marvels at the sport’s growth, including the local group’s Sunday sessions as well as three others during the week.

“When we first started two years ago, between three to seven people would show up,” he said. “Now we have 40-plus three times a week and sometimes over 60, even in the heat of the summer.”

Added Barris, “In my opinion, pickleball is going to continue to grow and provide people with a great fun way to get fit, make new friends and forget about everything else when they are on the court.”

A player in the forefront serves the ball as matches take place on two adjacent pickleball courts.

The six courts are part of the city building 20 courts during the past two years with more on the way.

“We cannot say enough positive things about the City of St. Petersburg Parks and Recreation Department and the athletics department for their openness to expand along with the tidal wave of pickleball players,” D’Amico said.

By Steve Lee Times Total Media Correspondent Photos courtesy of Steve Lee

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