Local couple making waves with the international pickleball set

Bud and Pierette Hebner of Little Current were featured in the December 2014 newsletter of the Pickleball Canada Organization as a couple who each garnered 1,600 points in competitive play during the 2013 season and who have been enthusiastic ambassadors of the fast growing sport.

LITTLE CURRENT—Bud and Pierette Hebner of Little Current are no strangers to competitive amateur sport, in their earlier years the couple rose high in the ranks of the provincial badminton circuit and the sport played a central role in their courtship and eventual marriage, but as time progressed and age took its toll on joints and muscles, competitive badminton had to fall by the wayside. Luckily, the couple was introduced to a new passion that allowed them to make use of many of the skills they developed during their badminton years—pickleball.

Recently, the Hebners were featured in the Pickelball Canada December 2014 newsletter, lauded for each attaining 1,600 points during the 2013 season.

The couple credit neighbours David and Helen Hall with introducing them to the sport which touts itself as “a game for all” and as the “fastest growing sport in North America.”

“With our badminton background it was an easy transition,” said Mr. Hebner, contacted in Blind River where the couple were awaiting the arrival of their latest grandchild, “it even brought us back to our younger days—but most of the players are much older. We’re really enjoying it.”

The couple has been playing pickleball for about five years now, estimated Mr. Hebner. “We started in Little Current, playing at the Little Current Curling Club during the summer months,” he said. When they retreated, like many retired Canadian snowbirds, to a summer nest at Winterhaven Resort in Florida the couple introduced the sport down to their new friends in that community, where it quickly expanded to dominate the local courts. The sport proved so popular that the resort managers allowed the couple to paint pickleball lines on the tennis courts.

Although the Island club has 17 members registered with the Ontario Pickleball Association, club members play at all levels. “Some players are competitive and some are beginners, but we are all in it to have fun,” said Mr. Hebner. “We socialize and get some exercise while we are at it.”

The Little Current club has a system of timed matches and a random selection of players to set against each other so there is a different partner for every match. “Being a small organization, it is a win-win situation for all as it gives players a chance to challenge each other,” he noted. The club welcomes visitors, families and friends and, as Little Current is a popular port on the North Channel, many of the transient boaters join in the fun during the summer.

The club plays three times a week for three hours during the spring, summer and fall when the curling club ice is out and each session is followed by a variety of social events for the members, explained Mr. Hebner.

The club members are generally all self-taught, although they have made good use of the availability of instructional videos and other materials. “There is still lots to learn,” he laughed. “The great thing with pickleball is that you are matched up with people in the same age category.” So players are not being pitched up against some 20-something who can run the legs off them. For all of that, the sport is fast paced and provides plenty of good exercise for its adherents.

All that being said, Mr. Hebner said that the one thing the club would like to see is greater numbers of young people taking up the sport. “Most of the people playing are 65-plus,” he said. In travelling to competitive meets in the northern US and southern Ontario the couple are seeing more and more young players on the courts.

One of the beauties of pickleball is that it is also very easy on the pocketbook, an important consideration for both retirees and youth.

“Most of the meets we go to, I don’t think it has cost us more than three dollars to play,” said Mr. Hebner. But best of all, in Little Current, there is no charge.

More about the Hebners and the sport of pickleball can be found at the website pickleballcanada.org.