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Litchfield County Times
Litchfield County, CT
You Gotta Try Paddle Tennis - By John Torsiello
You may have seen them, those hardy souls braving all kinds of winter weather while the rest of us are driving by in the cozy cockpits of our SUVs, conquering the elements with ease as we move from one warm place to another. read article


You Gotta Try Paddle Tennis
By: John Torsiello
You may have seen them, those hardy souls braving all kinds of winter weather while the rest of us are driving by in the cozy cockpits of our SUVs, conquering the elements with ease as we move from one warm place to another.

No, not downhill or cross-country skiers, ice skaters or even hockey players. These folks are among a growing number of Litchfield County residents who have found platform tennis to be just the tonic to chase away the winter blahs-that's right, platform tennis.
"It's intoxicating," said J.B. Nickles, a tennis professional at Pinewoods Health and Racquet Club in Torrington, who has caught the "paddle" bug big time. He and Pinewoods owner Eric Claman compete regularly in tournaments in Hartford and the Boston area.
"It's like golf," chimed in Mr. Claman, whose facility boasts two paddle courts built four years ago. "You ask 10 tennis professionals who also play paddle what sport they enjoy more, and eight of them will say paddle."
Almost on cue, Doug Madeux, another teaching pro, walks by and Mr. Claman shouts, "Hey Doug, which do you like better, paddle or tennis." Mr. Madeux answers definitively, "Paddle."
The lure of platform tennis is that it can be played outdoors in all kinds of weather. Because the court is raised above the ground, snow and ice can be easily shoveled off to allow for play. The bottom of the court is warmed by a propane heater that quickly dissipates a touch of snow or light rain even when play is being conducted.
"We were in a tournament in Boston a few weeks ago," said Mr. Claman, "and it was around zero when we started. It was cold, but because the game is continuous, and the points are so long, you quickly warm up."
Added Mr. Nickles, "I started with a number of layers of clothing, and had stripped down to only a few layers by the time we were done. It's such a great workout."
Platform tennis is, relatively speaking, a fairly new sport. In 1928, tennis buffs James Cogswell and Fessenden Blanchard of Scarsdale, N.Y., were tired of sitting around and watching the snow fall. They yearned to be back outside on the tennis court. So they devised a scaled down version of the game that would be played on a court one-quarter the size of a tennis court(30-by-60-feet).
They elevated their court to prevent snow piles, and ringed it with a wire cage to keep the balls from bouncing away. They soon stumbled upon the idea that allowing players to hit the ball off the wire netting before it landed back onto the court would enhance the fun, and uniqueness, of their new sport.
Otherwise, the rules for platform tennis are basically the same as those for regular tennis. Exceptions include playing the ball off the screen, awarding one serve instead of two to the server on each point and playing serves that skim the net and bounce into the service box. Any ball spiked over the fence costs the player doing so the point.
The typical platform tennis paddle is 18 inches long, with a circular hitting area of about 10 inches in diameter. The hitting surface has holes. The paddleball is made of solid foam rubber, two and half inches in diameter. It is bouncy, and because it lacks the fuzz of a tennis ball, it does not respond to spin as a tennis ball does. The "bounciness" of the ball varies depending on the temperature. The colder the weather, the less bounce.
Finesse and placement are of prime importance in platform tennis. The best strategy is to take the net whenever possible and control play. Points sometimes last 30 or more hits and often end with a mistake rather than the putaways common in tennis.
Platform tennis is played mostly using the doubles format, i.e. two players against two. Singles can be played, but because of the small size of the court and the difficulty in covering area quickly, the points are much shorter, making the singles version less of the workout, say aficionados. The ideal temperature for platform tennis is around 30 degrees Fahrenheit. The game is difficult to play during the warm weather months because the ball becomes too bouncy.
"It's crazy," said Mr. Nickles. "We were a tournament, and the first point lasted something like 60 hits. You're waiting the other team out and trying to put them in a defensive position where they will make a mistake."
One of the most potent weapons in platform tennis is an effective lob shot. This can drive opponents off the net and pin them to the back of the court where they will be forced to play balls off the wire netting, sometimes after caroms off two corner walls.
The game is especially popular in Fairfield and Westchester counties, where many communities have municipal courts. Almost all of the courts in Litchfield County are found at private schools and country clubs. Mr. Claman said he has conducted a number of clinics, and offers lessons at his facility to encourage the growth of paddle tennis.
"It's very popular here," said Bob Kulig, treasurer of the Sharon Country Club, and the club's paddle committee chairman. He competed in a number of national platform tennis tournaments in the 1970s and 1980s. "We're talking about adding a second court and a little warming hut to allow us to conduct tournaments. We have a nice group that plays during the winter."
Barbara Bettigole of Lakeville is an avid player. She grew up on the platform tennis courts of the New York City area, and has seen the game grow in popularity in her new hometown.
"We've played in two-degree weather this year," she said. "One point can last minutes, and it's such a great workout that you don't feel the cold after a while. And paddle is more sociable than tennis. You are closer to one another on the court, and there's more interaction between players. I would much rather be outside than in a gym during the winter."
The game has become so popular the Northwest Corner that the town of Salisbury is planning for the construction of two municipally-owned courts that will be located near the center of town.
"The game is very popular here, and because most people have to play on private courts there is a need for public courts," said Annette West, a member of the group that has lobbied for the construction of town-owned courts. "We've had a very positive response and we believe it would be a great asset for the town. We could have clinics and programs and get even more people involved and active during the winter."
The cost of the courts, which proponents hope to have built before next winter, be more than $50,000 each. They would be the first town-owned platform tennis courts in the county. The closest public courts are in Simsbury.
One person who would love to see more public courts is New Hartford's David Childs. The 72-year-old has won a number of national age division platform tennis titles, often teaming with his brother, William, who lives in Dorset, Vt. David usually travels to Farmington to play. He's on the sidelines this year after suffering a broken rib in a freak accident falling on his racquet.
"It's just a great game. Because power isn't such a weapon, it's wonderful for mixed doubles, and older people can play at a high level," Mr. Childs commented. "I'd love to see more municipal courts so more people can play the game."
For further information about platform tennis, or to find out when and were clinics will be held, call Pinewoods Health and Racquet Club at 860-482-9424 or visit the Web site, www.pinewoodsclub.com. The American Platform Tennis Association's Web site is www.platformtennis.org.

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