2018-06-06 / Local News

Pickleball standout wants to spread the word about the sport


HOMETOWN: Cherry Hill

AGE: 69

FAMILY: Wife Karen (of blessed memory); children Brandon; Valerie Frank, and Darien Saft

SYNAGOGUE: Temple Micah in Lawrenceville

BEST PICKLEBALL SHOTS: Lob and drop volley

FAVORITE PLACE TO PLAY: Green Valley Country Club

TOURNAMENT SNACKS: Bagels and fruit

Not since his college days, when he was on the Oberlin soccer team, did Ed Klarman take himself seriously as an athlete. But since going into (semi) retirement as a CPA two years ago, the Cherry Hill resident has been playing, and more often than not winning, at what has been deemed the fastest growing sport in the United States: Pickleball.

During his debut performances in the U.S. Open Pickleball Championship in Naples, FL recently, Klarman took home a silver medal for mixed doubles (ages 60 and over) and a bronze in men’s doubles (ages 65 and over). The level of play was dramatically stepped up from the competition he is used to locally— where Pickleball is also exploding in popularity. Pumped by his successes in Florida, he has already made plans to compete in November’s 2018 Pickleball National Championships in Indian Springs, CA, which promises even more intense competition.

But still…

“Every time I start to take myself seriously, when I tell people I play Pickleball, they just look at me and say what do you mean ‘Pickleball’?” he noted.

Cast out all images of gherkins and kosher dills from your head. Pickleball is a serious sport stuck with a silly name. A cross between Ping Pong and tennis played on a Badminton-size court with a low net, it’s played with a perforated plastic ball similar to a Wiffle ball and lightweight paddles about twice the size of those used for Ping Pong.

As legend has it, the game was created in the Pacific Northwest by three fathers in 1965 using cast off equipment from different sports and named after a rambunctious family dog called Pickles. Overcoming humble beginnings and a ridiculous name, it is now considered both the fastest growing and most inclusive sport nationwide and is popular among senior citizens and schoolchildren alike as well as all demographics in between.

The USA Pickleball Association has identified more than 2.8-million players in 2018, a 12 percent jump over 2017. Locally, there are over 750 people signed onto South Jersey Pickleball Meet up. Members have numerous and growing options to play both indoors and outdoors. Among popular meet-ups, there are courts at the Cherry Hill Racquet Club, the International Sports Center in Cherry Hill, the Kroc Center in Camden, as well as public ones in Cherry Hill, Moorestown and Evesham, to name a few. The Katz JCC in Cherry Hill has started offering open play and lessons on weekday mornings.

Klarman will volley anywhere, and is usually playing somewhere at least five times a day, but considers the Green Valley Country Club in Lafayette Hill, PA to have the most competitive play in the area.

He first heard of the sport while vacationing several years ago in Costa Rica. A member of the resort fitness staff introduced him to the game. And although he opted not to play at the time, the lean senior made a mental note.

“I could see that I could be capable of playing it well,” he said. “I have very good hand-eye coordination in Ping Pong, but was never very good with a tennis racket,” he said. “Pickleball has a short racket, which is easier for me.”

Two years ago, a client obsessed with the game encouraged him to give it a try. From his first match, Klarman was hooked. Win or lose, he says he comes out on top simply by discovering such a rewarding hobby. “I’m trying to make people aware of how much fun it is,” Klarman said. “I see too many people give up on sports, but they now have what they call senior tournaments, for people 50 and over, and Super Senior, for people over 60. Everybody is out there moving around and having a good time.” 

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