Hit a few balls over the net and you’re addicted to Pickleball

Derek Kratz looked for a sport to play after high school and found the paddle and ball game irresistible

PORT WASHINGTON’S DEREK KRATZ played in a pickleball competition at Elite Sports Club-River Glen in Milwaukee. (Lower photo) Standing behind Kratz were (from left) doubles partner Jim Clemens, Kratz’s son Nolan, River Glen head tennis and pickleball pro Jeff Aranda and pickleball director and manager of Elite Sports Club in Mequon Mark Goldin. Photo by Sam Arendt


Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington High School 1994 graduate Derek Kratz knew his days of football, wrestling and baseball were well behind him, but he had been looking for ways to stay active.

About eight years ago, one of his friends invited him to an open gym at Lincoln Elementary School.

“Hey Derek, I want you to try this new sport out,” he was told.

“The following week I went, and I was addicted,” Kratz said.

That new activity turned out to be the fastest-growing sport in the world — pickleball.

Kratz never played tennis in high school, but that wasn’t a barrier in picking up the mix of tennis, badminton and ping pong.

“It just felt natural. It’s a good sense of low-impact exercise,” he said.

Pickleball players don’t need to have tennis experience, said Mark Goldin, the pickleball director and manager of

Elite Sports Club in Mequon who played tennis for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and is head coach for Cardinal Stritch’s men’s and women’s tennis teams.

“You can pick it up a lot faster not having a racket sport background,” he said.

Kratz said he has tried his hand at ping pong.

“I’m absolutely terrible. I’m not going to lie,” he said.

But the hand-eye coordination of the former Pirate quarterback, pitcher and outfielder was better suited for pickleball. Kratz began playing three to four times a week and still plays as often as he can  around his sales job at Frito-Lay and being a husband and father of three.

He quickly noticed the differences between indoor and outdoor versions of the sport.

The ball skips a little on a gym floor, and the wind can play a factor outside.

“I prefer to play in the elements. You can put up an educated lob, and it throws people off,” Kratz said.

Kratz plays at Elite in Mequon, the Cedarburg Community Gym, the Feith Family YMCA in Saukville, Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Port, Pleasant Valley Tennis and Fitness Club in Jackson, River Tennis Club in River Hills and at outdoor parks.

Besides the fun of the sport itself, Kratz noticed something else about the pickleball’s culture.

“Honestly, 95% of the people in pickleball are welcoming,” he said.

At River Tennis Club, he said, most of the players are attorneys or doctors.

“Everyone’s as friendly as the next,” Kratz said.

That atmosphere keeps newcomers coming back, he said, even if they’re not good players.

“It’s socially fun. Nobody’s there to be the best player,” Kratz said. “Since I started playing, I’ve gotten to know at least a couple of hundred people.”

When he started, Kratz kept getting beat by someone who is much older. That’s when Kratz began learning about strategy  — keeping the ball down and hitting to opponents’ backhands.

Kratz knows his limits. He only plays doubles with a few different partners.

“I’m too old for (singles),” he said.

But he’s not too old to try to win, even among friends.

“I can be very competitive,” Kratz said. “When I step on that court, I’m coming to play.”

Kratz isn’t the only one in his family who plays. His 17 and 19-year-olds haven’t picked up pickleball yet, but his 12-year old son Nolan loves it since trying the sport nearly three years ago.

“I like all the people, and it’s a good time together,” he said.

Equipment, like in any sport, can run the gamut. When Kratz started, pickleball paddles could cost between $80 to $125. Now, high-end paddles are $299.

Styles depend on the player. Some paddles are head heavy, but Kratz prefers a even-balanced one.

Kratz’s paddle has a carbon fiber surface, which dampens the impact with the ball a little bit. Hard hitters, he said, use graphite.

For those looking to get into the sport without making a huge investment, inexpensive paddles are available. Kratz said he bought a paddle for $15 for his son, and it included balls. Most clubs offer courts for $3 to $5 per session — still cheaper than a movie.

Last Saturday, he competed on an interleague team in a pickleball league at Elite Sports Club’s River Glen location in Milwaukee.

The sport, Goldin said, has boomed since the club began offering it last fall.

“We noticed the demand for it. We rolled it out as fast as we could,” he said. “Now we have teaching pros, clinics, leagues and socials.”

Goldin describes the sport as “oversized ping pong” that has universal appeal.

“It’s really for the family. You can play it as a 5-year-old up to the 90s,” he said.

Clinics offer instruction for beginners through players with a 5.0 rating, the highest attainable.

The club has three certified pickleball instructors, and the introduction class always has a waiting list, Goldin said.

Pickleball has a professional circuit, which has even drawn some pro tennis players.

Pickleball started in 1965 in Washington State by three fathers whose children were looking for something to do during summer, and it slowly grew from there.

Kratz encourages people to give pickleball a try.

“You play this sport and you’ll be addicted, and you don’t have to be a good athlete,” he said.

For more information, visit usapickleball.org.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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