August 19, 2022 4 min read 4 Comments
“When I started playing Pickleball, which will be 17 years ago this February, I knew it was a monster and it was gonna grow.”___Barb Wintroub, Pickleball player/teacher, Palm Springs, Ca.
By Ray Glier
Of course, it was Barb Wintroub who helped bring disorder to the Los Angeles sports scene. Pickleball needed a dynamo to transport it out of the RV parks where it was thriving and into the polished arenas of tennis and golf. Wintroub is not a fence straddling personality. She was just the person to make space for a new game in the city.
The game is sweeping the country. It didn't light itself on fire. It didn't hatch and fledge on its own.
Where did the game come from the last 10 years? Ask the Geezer Jocks, Boomers, Graybeards and Blue Hairs. It was supersized by disrupters like Wintroub.
After driving to the San Diego area for two years to play Pickleball, Wintroub went to the Santa Monica Parks & Rec in 2009 to introduce the caretakers of recreation space to the game and she found a reluctant audience. She kept pestering them to give the game a chance. Finally, they gave her a slot on Saturday, noon to 2 p.m., in a gym on 14th and Olympic Blvd. She had to tape the Pickleball court boundaries herself, set up the net, and then pull up the tape herself when she was done.
This is how you fuel a movement. Choose your cause. Be bold. Mobilize the grass roots. See a need and meet it.
Her friend, Chris Thomas, invited Wintroub to go to the prestigious LA Tennis Club with him to sell the game and then it set up for members and teach it. Then it was on to yacht clubs around the city for Wintroub.
She and Thomas elevated Pickleball in southern California when they pushed the game all throughout the Coachella Valley at private clubs around Palm Springs.
Wintroub and Thomas, who now lives in The Villages in Florida, encroached on the mecca of tennis at a club on Mulholland in Hollywood. They were not welcomed by all, but by enough. The game was setting fire to traditions of what older athletes could do.
It was Wintroub who introduced the game south of the border, in Tecate, at the Rancho La Puerto health and fitness resort.
This story is important because there may be a lack of walking trails around your town. You shouldn't be afraid to kick up some dust. You shouldn't be afraid to hear 'no'.
Cricket started in the 16th century to disdain. Softball started in 1887...in a boat club building. Golf was banned in Scotland in 1457.
Enthusiasm kept the sports alive. Enthusiasm is contagious.
It helped that Wintroub, 75, is very good at this game. She rose to be a 5.0 player and has won at the U.S. Open and she has won at The Huntsman World Games and the National Senior Games. Wintroub plays in 14-16 tournaments a year and estimates she has won 200 medals in 15 years.
Geezer Jocks need to be exalted for being pioneers. Too often, we are seen as gingerly, and merely passengers. Wintroub grabs the wheel and she drives with both hands.
Pickleball is all over LA, especially in Santa Monica, which is a stronghold of Geezer Jocks.
“They have converted most of the tennis courts outdoors and they've got pickleball there all the time,” Wintroub said.
One person kicked up dust in Santa Monica. One.
It was by accident that Wintroub discovered Pickleball and it was because of a magazine called Geezer Jock. My friend Sean Callahan and his partners started the publication in 2005. In early 2006, Wintroub was at her podiatrist and he showed her a copy of Geezer Jock. She flipped through the pages and saw a story on an obscure sport called Pickleball.
“I’ve been athlete for years and never heard of Pickleball,” Wintroub said. “There was no Pickleball in LA. I couldn’t find any of the equipment in stories so I ordered paddles and balls. I started hitting off the wall at Venice Beach.”
Wintroub became enamored by the game. One weekend she took the paddles and balls down to the Palm Desert Senior Games and entered a tournament without ever played a game and won two silver medals. She was hooked.
She rose in status not just because she became a 5.0 player, but also because of her enthusiasm for this new-found path of fitness. Wintroub is flexible and has some quickness and is very athletic, even today, at 75. She started teaching the game and now has You Tube videos on stretching exercises before a Pickleball match or practice.
“Many people are getting injured as they get older because they're not stretching, and they're not standing up straight,” Barb said. “I'm continuing to do that. And it makes a huge difference.”
Here, watch this.
Barb is a natural for the game because she has played tennis since she was 10. She was a competitive bowler at 8 years old. Her father bought her a catcher’s mitt for baseball and taught her how to throw and catch a football. She likes athletics and she likes to win.
These days Wintroub plays Pickleball with people who are 60 because she finds it hard to scare up good competition among people her age, especially in the summer when good players have flocked north.
What’s really cool with this woman is she gives credit for Pickleball where it is due.
“The RV people started this game, all around the country,” Wintroub said. “Then the rest of us got in on it.
“Like I said, I knew it was going to be a monster.”
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