Written by Lori Boatfield
Photos by Michael Bradley
Sandy Greene moved to Huntsville to work for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center after graduating with engineering degrees from the University of Kentucky. After more than 32 years with NASA, she retired at the end of 2020. Her husband, Alan, an engineer who worked for the Department of the Army, is also retired. Even though neither of them are originally from Huntsville, they both consider it home. They are enjoying their retirement by traveling, helping in their community, and playing lots of pickleball.
LB: What is pickleball? How did it originate?
SG: Pickleball is a fun, social sport for all ages and skill levels. It’s often described as a cross between tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. In 1965, some families in Washington State created it in one of their backyards as a unique, family friendly, past-time using a handy collection of spare equipment from other sports. They introduced it to other friends and it quickly caught on. Since then, it has been spreading across the country, and now it’s the fastest growing sport in America.
LB: How long has there been pickleball in Huntsville? How did it start?
SG: In 2012, a wonderful group of active players started the Huntsville Pickleball Club (HPC) with about 20 folks. Now it has over 550 members. The city of Huntsville has been very supportive – it offers play at nearly every community center for free during a variety of times throughout the week. Outdoor courts are also available in the local area. The city of Huntsville is building even more outdoor courts that will be covered, which we hope will offer event space for big tournaments, like those taking place in other cities.
LB: How did you get involved in playing?
SG: My husband and I used to hike, and one of our fellow hikers told me about the sport. After my husband retired in 2017, we both took the free lessons offered by HPC, and were immediately hooked. Not only was it fun to play, but the other players were so nice and welcoming that we couldn’t wait to play again. In the summer of 2020, during the COVID-19 shutdowns, the city opened 12 new outdoor courts at the Sandra Moon Community Complex on the site of the old Grissom High School – which offered a great option for all players in the area, since the indoor gyms were closed for quite a while.
It’s a great way to stay active, and it offers a wonderful social environment, as well. And it’s great for families, too. Several members of our family have gotten hooked, even our young grandsons love to play it. It’s refreshing to see families playing it together – it reminds me of my whole family playing badminton in our backyard when I was growing up.
LB: How can others get involved?
SG: HPC offers free lessons to anyone who would like to learn. You can sign up on our website, at pickleball-huntsville.com. Lessons are offered at different times, on indoor and outdoor courts. Our website also provides a listing of all available courts/parks and playing times throughout the area.
HPC also sponsors fundraisers to give back to our community. Last year, we raised $14,000 for Huntsville Hospital’s Breast Cancer Assistance Fund. We are supporting that fund again with the Pickled Pink Tournament in May of this year. During our 2022 Holiday Social and Tournament, we collected 230 pounds of food for the North Alabama Food Bank.
LB: What’s your favorite part of playing/teaching?
SG: Playing offers a fun and challenging way to stay in shape. But I LOVE the social interaction just as much. Often the courts are filled with laughter and encouraging words – even from your opponents! I love to help teach the sport because I want others to experience how much fun it is – regardless of how athletic you are. When I see new players just having fun and learning new skills – especially if they doubt their ability – it’s a joyful moment.