Everywhere They Go, Beverly and Earl Schalin Find Themselves Teaching Pickleball

By Karen Price
Red Line Editorial

Beverly and Earl Schalin have collected medals from pickleball tournaments all across the country, held national senior rankings and been featured in newspaper and television pieces.

What really brings them joy, however, is teaching others how to play the sport they love. Whether it’s their neighbors at the retirement community in San Diego where they live, fellow timeshare vacationers or even a photojournalist assigned to take their picture, the Schalins are happy to put paddles in the hands of newcomers and get them on the court.

“At one point a group of ladies must have been watching or something, because I didn’t notice them, but they saw me and said, ‘Will you teach us how to play? We don’t know anything about athletics,’” Beverly said. “I got them on the court and they didn’t want to go home. They were out there for two hours. I was pooped!”

Earl Schalin recently turned 95, and Beverly will be 90 this fall. They were both competitive tennis players who started playing pickleball about 12 years ago, a few years after they retired and moved to Sun Lakes, Arizona. They both found it was easier on the body — Beverly had recently had rotator cuff surgery and Earl’s back had been giving him trouble — and they loved the nonstop action. 

“Gradually, we played less tennis,” Earl said.

Before long they were entering — and winning — pickleball tournaments. They also began lobbying the mayor of Chandler to install pickleball lines on local tennis courts and got their first taste of teaching after volunteering to host a series of introductory clinics. Between playing everyday, competing in events including the World Senior Games and teaching others, pickleball became a major part of the Schalins’ life. In fact, when their three sons requested they move closer to one of them, they fought them on it for four years.

“We were having too much fun playing and teaching pickleball,” Earl said.

Five years ago, they moved near their son in San Diego. They estimate that they taught over 400 people to play pickleball while they lived in Arizona.

It didn’t take long to start adding to that number in their new community. 

“When the people at Covenant Living at Mount Miguel found out we had won all these medals playing pickleball they asked us if we would be willing to teach it to the residents and their families,” Earl said. 

Many times, the people they teach have some sort of a tennis background, Earl said, but tennis takes a long time to learn and even longer to be competitive. With pickleball, they can teach people what they need to know within 15 to 20 minutes.

“And if they’ve played ping-pong, they’re actually hitting balls back and forth,” Earl said. “Maybe they’re not playing and keeping score, but they’re keeping the ball in play for two, three, four hits. The expression on their faces when they realize this is something to behold.”

Not long ago, the San Diego Union-Tribune featured the Schalins in a story. The photographer who accompanied the reporter was about 27 or 28 years old, they said, and had never seen pickleball before the assignment. He had about 45 minutes free after his work was complete, so they put a paddle in his hand.

“After about 15 minutes he was already sweating,” Beverly said. 

Six or seven years ago, the Schalins were at one of the Lawrence Welk Resort Villages and decided to play a game. They walked out on a court and caught the attention of the athletic director, who was supposed to teach a pickleball class in a few minutes but was new on the job and not entirely familiar with the game.

“We took over and taught all these people who’d arrived there, and they had their kids and grandkids and, boy, people didn’t want to leave,” Earl said. “We were back there one year later, and the guy was still there and came over and hugged us, and another couple was there who’d been there the year before. They were from Pennsylvania, and they ran over and hugged us and told us how much fun they’d had in the last year teaching everyone back in Pennsylvania how to play pickleball.”

The Schalins stopped playing in tournaments about five years ago, partly because the high-level tournaments have turned into multiple-round affairs and partly because they ran out of people in their age group to play against. Some of the people they play against now are a little younger, they said, and some are a lot younger. 

They now play using some modified rules that help make the game safer for older individuals. One is no lobbing. They don’t want anyone to have to back up, because that carries too much of a fall risk. They also no longer run up to the net.

“We mosey,” Earl said.

But one of the beautiful things about pickleball, they both agreed, is that anyone can play, no matter how young or how old.

“We talk to a lot of people, and they’re walking very good but they say well I have bad knees and I can’t pivot sideways,” Beverly said. “So I’ll encourage them to just come and watch and see if they think it might be a possibility rather than just assuming they can’t do it. We have lots of friends who’ve had knee replacements and they’re out there doing it and having fun when they didn’t think they could.”

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to USA Pickleball on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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