Three and a half years ago, Dan Hill’s wife, Lori, invited him to join her for pickleball at the Andover rec center.
“I went out there to appease her,” Hill said. “I didn’t like it.”
Hill, 70, a longtime tennis player, didn’t like the way the pickleball bounced. He allowed his wife to drag him out one more time, though, and he played someone who beat him.
“That’s all it took. I was like, I’m not going to let that happen again.”
He not only conquered the game, he and former Wichitan Tony Greenberg, 65, who now lives in Oklahoma City, are the new national pickleball doubles champions at the 3.5 level in the 65-plus age bracket.
The Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships were held last month in California.
There were 26 teams in the level 3.5, 65-plus age bracket. At each match leading up to and including the finals, Hill and Greenberg had to win two out of three games. Hill said they won their first match pretty easily but had a closer one in the second round.
In the third round, they won the first game but lost the second.
“That’s a close match when you split,” Hill said. “It could be anybody’s game.”
In the semifinals, he said, “We played a good team, but we played really, really well.”
In the first game at the finals, they lost the first 5 points out of a total of only 11.
“So, holy cow, we’re down five points just right off the bat,” Hill said. “We fought our way back.”
They only needed two games.
“It was close for a while, but then we won,” Hill said. “It’s what you go there for.”
Now, Hill and Greenberg have what’s called a golden ticket into next year’s championship.
“We’re going to go there and have fun, but we’re not going to have near as much fun unless we win,” Greenberg said. “So we’re going to work hard at getting as good as we can.”
He and his mixed-doubles partner, Connie Burnett, also won gold at the 4.0 level in the 55-plus age group.
Hill and his mixed-doubles partner, Wichitan Patty Rothweiler, had qualified to go to nationals, but she wasn’t able to attend. They hope to qualify again next year.
Rothweiler said she wasn’t surprised Hill and Greenberg won.
“I had no doubt they were going to take the gold.”
Another Wichitan, Robert Mansfield, partnered with Steve Fisher to win the doubles for the 60-plus age bracket in the 3.0 skill bracket. Mansfield finished second in the 60-plus singles 4.0 skill bracket.
A social game
Hill, Greenberg and Rothweiler all love the competition and social aspect of pickleball.
“I’ve made so many friends,” Rothweiler said.
Hill and Greenberg are longtime athletes, and Hill said to be able to still compete and be challenged “is kind of how you’re built, it’s how you’re wired.”
“It challenged me mentally and physically to figure out how to get better and beat people.”
The two have become ambassadors of sorts for the game.
“You can be a top athlete . . . or you can be a beginner,” Hill said. “Pickleball is a very simple, simple game, but the higher up you go, the more strategy is involved in the game.”
Greenberg, a longtime competitive squash player, had just taken up pickleball when he decided to have his hips replaced after years of wear playing squash.
“The only reason I did it was because I realized how much fun pickleball is,” he said. “I just realized it was worth getting hip-replacement surgery.”
Now, Greenberg encourages others with pain to do something about it “if it’s really bugging you and keeping you from doing what you like.”
And, of course, he and Hill encourage others to try pickleball.
“Wichita’s a great pickleball community,” Greenberg said.
Hill is glad he listened to his wife.
“At age 70, to be able to say I’m a champion of something is really nice. It’s a great feeling.”