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Sports Brownstein: Squickle ball, anyone? New sport is a pandemic smash

14:55  12 may  2021
14:55  12 may  2021 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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a man riding a skateboard up the side of a ramp: John Archer in action at the Atwater Club. © Provided by The Gazette John Archer in action at the Atwater Club.

John Archer insists that no dills, gherkins or half-sours are being harmed in the newly created sport he and his buddies have taken up with a passion during the pandemic.

The game is called squickle ball, a curious combo of squash and pickleball — the latter a modified form of tennis — wherein two players with unstrung paddle rackets attempt to hit a small object over a pickleball net by also using, if desired, the walls of the indoor court to score points. The small object in question is, mercifully, not a pickle, but rather a Wiffle ball.

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“No pickles involved. I’m glad we have that on the record,” Archer declares. “That would be messy, and probably take away my love for pickles with a smoked-meat sandwich after squickle ball.”

“All the same, don’t give him any ideas,” retorts Archer’s squickle ball opponent Charles Marien.

Evidently, when the going got tough for Archer and his squash-loving cohorts, they invented this game to maintain a level of both physical and mental fitness.

Pandemic regulations stipulated that doubles and, later, singles squash — their previous favourite pastimes — were verboten at their downtown Atwater Club, but that badminton and pickleball on a doubles court with just two masked players distanced by a net were allowed. So by extension, it was determined that squickle ball on a doubles court with two masked, distanced players was also legit.

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“We experimented at first with pickleball and badminton,” Archer says, “but my friends didn’t like badminton at all, so we stuck with pickleball with squash-like modifications and, voilà, squickle ball was born. And we’re really obsessed now.”

As a result, a group of about 10 eager squickle ballers — men and women in different small rotations — now congregate, apparently fully conscious at 6 a.m. weekdays before work as well as on weekends, to let off a little steam and to get in a lot of laughs at a time when both are in short supply.

The laughs come largely as a result of unpredictable ball bounces as well as the rules of the game mandated by self-appointed commish Archer. “Rule No. 1: John Archer must always win. Rule No. 2: See Rule No. 1.” The remaining rules are similar to those governing pickleball.

“Unfortunately, no one is abiding by the first two rules,” says Archer, who has also designed squickle ball T-shirts with an Olympic crest on the front and the words “Eat, Sleep, Squickle” on the back. “But, more importantly, the courts are kept squickly clean, and the players, all of whom have been partially vaccinated at this point, are protected.”

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The fear in some quarters is that squickle ball could disappear when provincial rules change and squash re-emerges.

“No worries about that,” Marien notes. “The game actually has a history of sorts, going back to the mid-19th century to something called the King of Games, where British royals would show up to play, drink and frolic in a similar game, which was also a harbinger of tennis and squash.

“Besides, if squickle ball is ever run out of here, John will probably build his own court if necessary.”

“And if I build it, some might even come,” Archer quips. “There are a lot of doubles squash players who would love to see squickle ball disappear when squash comes back. But we can’t ever forget that squickle ball has helped us survive this pandemic physically while also enhancing our mental health via good-natured trash talk and social interaction.”

The game has certainly helped keep the Atwater Club going.

“In pre-pandemic times, we would have 200 to 300 people here on any given day,” says manager Dawid Jagiello. “Now we’re down to limiting the club to about eight people an hour. People have to reserve for everything, because we have to know who’s coming in to identify the person in case anything should happen.

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“It’s hard to tell where the future will take us, but it’s nice to see people playing something and also being able to laugh again.”

Archer and Marien step off the court after a somewhat spirited game.

Who won?

Blurts Archer: “Let’s just say he forgot the first two rules of the game.”

bbrownstein@postmedia.com

twitter.com/billbrownstein

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