On a recent Tuesday night, members of Brigantine Community Education and Recreation traded in their traditional badminton shuttlecocks and rackets for a Wiffle ball and squared wooden paddles. The newly widespread game of Pickleball, once limited to an older crowd in Florida, has caught on with all ages as the CER's latest addition to its winter schedule.

"It was a backyard game," Lee Mendell, CER tennis instructor and racquet sport director, said. "It caught on in Florida, because with the senior citizens, it's a smaller court, less running, less strenuousness.

But, it's still a racket sport.

"It's a modified badminton, ping pong, squash, tennis. It's all the same strokes."

At first glance, the game does not appear to differ much from a standard tennis match. It's played on a court with a few conversions to adjust the size, including its net, which is lowered to 34 inches, according to the USA Pickleball Association website.

The game is fast-paced, but easier on the joints, Mendell said.

The plastic ball must bounce on each side of the court before players can hit the ball in the air or on the "volley," and the game is typically played to 11, Mendell explained. The "kitchen," the seven-foot rectangle taped out in the front of the net, becomes a no-hit zone, unless the ball bounces in the area first.

The easy-to-learn game was named after a Florida family's cocker spaniel, named Pickles, who made a habit of chasing stray balls.

Kay Papendrew, Barbara Rote, and Libby and Bob Canavan, all of Brigantine, had not heard of the sport until this month.

"It's the second week, and they're hooked," Mendell said of the doubles group.

Papendrew, 60, never played racket sports, but concluded that the ease of the game made it enjoyable and suitable for anyone.

"It's a lot of fun," she said. "Every Tuesday, I'd like to come out."

Opposing teammate, Rote, 50, said she had no problem keeping up with the new game and joined to meet her neighbors after just recently moving to Brigantine full time from Shamong Township, Burlington Township.

"I've never heard of it until last week," she said. "We just moved to Brigantine full time, and I figured it would be a good way to meet people."

The newly instituted program, however, has brought out more teenage players than the intended older crowd. Mendell explained that, over the past few years, local middle schools introduced the sport to its gym classes.

Justin Grossman, 15, now a student at Atlantic City High School, recalled playing the game through eighth grade. Although he is not a tennis player, he enjoys coming out to stay active with his friends.

"It's just something to do instead of sitting at home," he said.

Kerin Maguire, 17, of Holy Spirit High School is an avid tennis player and sees many differences between her sport and Pickleball.

"It's very different," she said. "A tennis ball is lighter, so the ball goes higher."

The Brigantine teenager recommended the game to anyone.

"It's fun, so its doesn't really feel like you're exercising."

The Pickleball season runs six weeks, ending in mid-February, with tournaments beginning in March. The group meets from 8 to 9 p.m. Tuesday nights in the Brigantine Community Center on 265 42nd St. The fee for the season is $15 and those interested can call the Brigantine CER at 609-266-3323.

Contact Caitlin Honan: