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While the younger set has caught on, pickleball still is for seniors too

While plenty of younger folks have taken a liking to pickleball — the sport even

has caught on at the high school club level — the game that once carried the stigma

of being just for older people actually still is.

Many seniors play, some as often as they can, with more taking up the sport all the time.

Jimmie Stokes and Eileen Ford hold their pickleball paddles as they stand in front of a local pickleball court.
Jimmie Stokes and Eileen Ford have been doubles partners for 10 years, the last five in pickleball after playing tennis together.

Jimmie Stokes and doubles partner Eileen Ford started out in tennis, winning numerous

tournaments in that sport. In 2018, however, the 80-year-olds switched to pickleball and continue to win doubles competitions in their age group.

“When you get up to my age you don’t have that much competition, so we do pretty good getting those gold medals,” Stokes said. “We’re over 80 and we move well. Some people our age don’t move well.”

Added Ford, “She’s a little more competitive than I am.”

Jimmie Stokes wears the gold and silver medals she earned in last year’s Florida Senior Games.
In last year’s Florida Senior Games, Jimmie Stokes earned gold and silver medals.

Often, they can be found honing their game at the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis Center in Zephyrhills. They also play on courts at Betmar Acres, the 55-and-older community where

they reside not far from the tennis center.

Stokes drew a comparison on the popularity of both sports. Where Betmar once had two tennis courts and just a temporary outline on one of those for pickleball, now it is reversed with eight pickleball courts and just one for tennis.

Sandy Beddingfield, Jimmie Stokes, Sue Harvey and Rita Jones hold their pickleball paddles at last year's Polk Senior Games.
Senior pickleball partners who often play together are (from left): Sandy Beddingfield, Jimmie Stokes, Sue Harvey and Rita Jones.

Plus, she recalled that when there was just a tennis club at that community the annual membership averaged around 50 senior players. Now, due to pickleball, membership has

surpassed the 160 mark.

“In Betmar, we can’t get enough people to play tennis because they all play pickleball,” Stokes said.

Making the switch from tennis to pickleball was not difficult for Stokes and Ford.

“When we started pickleball we stayed as partners and pretty much gave up tennis,” Stokes said.

“For anybody who’s played raquet sports before, it’s kind of natural to go into pickleball,” Ford said.

Tom Poppas and Jimmie Stokes show off their medals at last year's Polk Senior Games.
Tom Poppas and Jimmie Stokes team up to win gold medals in mixed doubles at last year’s Polk Senior Games.

Stokes and Ford have competed and won in the State Senior Games, which for the past couple of years have taken place at SVB. Unlike neighboring Hillsborough and Pinellas,

however, Pasco does not have county games — for pickleball or any other senior sport, for that matter.

They hope that changes soon.

“We need the county senior games,” Stokes said. “Everyone else around us has it. We’re the only ones without. Pasco County’s exploding with new pickleball courts so it doesn’t make sense.”

“It’s really important because I think it will encourage more people to compete in pickleball,” Ford added.

By Steve Lee

Times Total Media Correspondent

Photos by Steve Lee and Jimmie Stokes

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