Keeping It Real With Hilary

The player who I have profiled in this edition of the Court is someone who I met at the Canadian Nationals last summer. She and I have something in common! No,…not athletic ability….she and I are the same age:-)….We chatted for awhile and she agreed to be interviewed in my blog.

I think my readers have enjoyed reading about the young stars that I have featured in previous posts, but, if you are like me, you will take a special note of what my +60 guest has to say about pickleball. She is proving to the world that our sport is almost age irrelevant. That’s why I study, and try to emulate her playing techniques. Hilary is a great teacher. You can learn from her by watching her tournament videos.

As well as being a legendary pickleballer, she is also a ”renaissance woman”…. She has done many varied and interesting things in her life. I am happy to present this interview with:

Hilary Marold

1. Hilary, there is a good bio about you in the ”Meet the Pickleball Pro” section of the Pickleball Central site…You have had a remarkable sporting life, especially in racquet sports. Since you’re a Hall of Fame athlete, I have a question for you…I know very little about platform or paddle tennis. Watching the action of YouTube, they looked like quick reaction, high adrenaline sports. Is pickleball a bit boring for you compared with your former high speed games?:-)

HM – Since I can remember, I have loved to play ALL games…I loved to compete. Card games, board games, trivia games and any sport you can name. I enjoy playing and I am never bored!…When you ask if pickleball is too slow and/or ”a bit boring” compared to some of the other racquet/paddle games I’ve played: tennis, platform tennis, paddle tennis (now called ”Pop” tennis by some), badminton Padel, racquetball and table tennis. My answer is, ”heck no!”…Pickleball is anything but slow and boring. Sure the pickleball usually doesn’t travel at the speed of a tennis ball or the ball used in racquetball or platform tennis, for instance, but it definitely can be hit hard with a flat snapshot or with topspin. It can also be hit deceptively and effectively in a strategic placement shot, or as a very controlled dink with underpin, sidespin, or just a regular ”low to high” trajectory. Because the ball used in pickleball is a whiffle like ball with holes, it does move slower and can be impacted in a greater way by wind when playing outdoors. Because it seems slower, the game itself is made more strategic and less a game of strength and power. The latter two do matter, just not as much in my estimation, as they do when paired with control, strategy and consistency. This is what makes pickleball such a popular game. It shows itself to be more of an equalizer of the sexes, of age and size/height/strength. I am 66 years old. I can still beat good younger singles players, mainly because I have good control of my ball placement. I have lost some strength with age and my power has diminished because of this, however, if I am hitting ”on a dime”- I can still give players in their 40s like Jen Lucore or Stephanie Lane a run for their money. That doesn’t mean I win, but I definitely can get close. Now if I were playing tennis against the same 5.0 level tennis player, almost 20 years younger, I certainly wouldn’t have a prayer. The court is too big with too much area to cover. Their speed of foot and the power with which they hit would be too great for me to overcome with placement and control. They would blow me away before I could even get to that strategy. In short, there is nothing boring about pickleball. As my parents used to say to me, ”If you’re bored, it must be something to do with you.” That’s good advice I think.

2. At the time of the PB Central interview, you didn’t have much pickleball in your home base of Corpus Christi, Texas. How is the situation now?…Do your local pickleballers have any places to play?

HM – Corpus Christi, Texas is still lacking in pickleball courts and players. We have a few enthusiastic diehards who learned the sport somewhere else and are hoping to entice their tennis fans. We have only one indoor athletic club tennis facility. They have some portable pickleball nets which they can put up inside or outside and tape the court lines. The Corpus Christi Country Club actually purchased two portable nets and painted lines for two pickleball courts on a back tennis court. The afore mentioned sites are the two spots to play in Corpus Christi, but the caveat is that you must be a member or a guest of a member to play.

3. In the past you have worked as a TV sports commentator and have been featured in People magazine and appeared on talk shows. How did you get into the media side of sports broadcasting? Was it fun being on the Dave Letterman show?

HM – I was a drama major at the University of Southern California. Drama and sports have always equally peaked my interest. My grandfather on my mother’s side had been a drama critic for the Los Angeles Herald newspaper in the late 20’s into the 30’s. His boss was William Randolph Hearst. As a kid I saw photos of my grandfather at Hearst Castle with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, or Marion Davies on many a movie set with L.B. Mayer, PT Barnum, Alan Ladd, etc…I saw letters written to my grandfather from Sophie Tucker, Adela Rogers St. John, Al Jolson and Sid Grauman. He played golf with Babe Ruth, flew in planes with Will Rogers, and sparred with Jack Dempsey. Newspapers, television and movies were a big thing in my house growing up. I wanted to do what Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett did, but I also thought it would be neat if I could do what Wilma Rudolph did. Wilma was the first female athlete I ever saw on television. She had become the female track star of the 1960 Olympics in Rome. When I got old enough to set a path in life, I definitely set it toward television. I started doing plays and got a national toothpaste commercial which was filmed in New York. I got an agent. She was OJ Simpson and Lynn Swann’s agent. We were all at USC at the same time, give or take a year or two. She knew a lot of the ABC sports executives like Roone Arlidge and Don Ohlmeyer. To make a long story short, my very first sports broadcast was as a competitor on the 1975 ABC Women’s Superstars. After that I started doing some sports broadcasting. I was lucky enough to work with Bud Collins, Al Michaels, Dick Schaap, John Newcombe, Tony Trabert, to name a few at ABC, NBC and CBS. During this time in the mid to late 70’s, I started competing on the platform tennis tour while living in Chicago and New York. I was invited to be a guest on the David Letterman Show. I was partly employed at this time by Kodel, the fiber optic company. They were paying me to go around the country, go to radio and television stations and talk about physical fitness. Kodel had arranged for an Olympic camera man to shoot slow motion shots of David Letterman and myself competing against each other in racquetball. They thought, as did perhaps David, that to compare his rather unorthodox form with that of a female racquet champion might be laughable material. Well, we were to film our racquetball game early one Saturday morning at a club in Manhattan. Dave arrived. How should I say this?…,sort of ”hungover”. It seemed like he had just rolled out of bed, or maybe hadn’t even gone to bed?! His hair was all uncombed and wooly looking. His face was red and puffy. His clothes were wrinkled and faded looking….He apparently was a racquetball player, but I won handily. They filmed us. When it came time for the show, I first came out and chatted with Dave about myself and my sports, and then we got on to what he did for exercise. Dave then said to the audience that we’d played racquetball against each other. They cued the Olmpic trainer/photographer to come out, and he showed his slo-mo video of the physiological differences in our fundamental techniques and stroke production. I guess they actually break all this down to a science with various Olympic athletes…Dave was a nice guy, sort of flirty I’d say.

4. Your long time friend and doubles partner, Yvonne Hackenberg, introduced you to pickleball about 7 years ago. Did you two have success right away? Did it take awhile for you ladies to figure out you pb strategy?

HM – Yvonne called me up, maybe 2009 to tell me she was playing a new sport called pickleball. She told me to UTube it. I did and called her back. I told her it was right up my alley. It looked to be extremely close to the game I grew up playing at the beach clubs along the So California coastline, paddle tennis. I flew out to the Nationals in Buckeye having never hit a ball. I played the day before in Arizona…We lost in the open final. I did win in singles though. Next year…same thing. I didn’t hit all year, but I now had a greater knowledge of the doubles strategy and we won our first gold in the national open women’s doubles. We together as a team have never lost a tournament in our actual age bracket. Both of us have good insight as to what our strategy should be, and know instinctively how to carry it out successfully.

5. I noticed that you were partnered with your husband Charlie at the Huntsman Senior Games…Is your spouse quite keen on pickleing?

HM – My husband Charlie is a very good athlete. It doesn’t matter the sport…He’s a natural. He doesn’t play much pickleball…hardly ever in fact. He loves his fishing and tennis. He won the singles gold in his age bracket (70-74) at the Huntsman Games in both tennis AND pickleball. He has also won gold in pickleball at the Texas State Games in singles and mixed doubles. Tennis is his sport of choice though…We have won the USTA gold ball in the national husband/wife tennis championship on grass, hard courts and clay. We actually met at a national tennis tournament in Chicago in 1976.

6. I had the pleasure of meeting you at this year’s Canadian Nationals. In women’s open singles, you won a silver medal in a close 3 game match vs your friend Jennifer Lucore…Most of us think of singles as a young person’s game. Could you give us some insights on how to play your best singles matches against younger opponents?

HM – Pickleball can level the playing for age. In 2015, Yvonne and I got the silver at Nationals for the Senior Women’s Open 50+. She was 67 and I, 65. There you go, case in point:-)…Singles is a bit tougher to level the playing field, but no matter the age, if you can move well and ”hit on a dime” (or close), you can take out those whippersnappers…those 40-50 whippersnappers! There should be no pressure to beat a player many years younger…It’s a win-win for the older player. It’s the younger player who looks across the net at the older competitor and thinks, ”Don’t tell me I’m losing??!”.As John McEnroe famously said, ”You can’t be serious!” 

7. You have won a lot of medals at the events you like to enter – TOC, US Nationals and the Huntsman Games…At Brigham City in September, you got gold in the MX Legends bracket. How was it for you hitting with Scott Moore? Had you two played together before this year’s TOC?

HM – Scott Moore is the greatest male player 50 and over. His record proves it. He proves it in singles and doubles. He can win with almost anyone. I have played several tournaments with Scott. He does not suffer fools lightly…I say this out of respect for his game and what he expects of his partner. It’s a rare occasion when he flagrantly mishits so, as his partner, you feel a responsibility to play as concentrated and consistent as he plays. In my youth that would be second nature to me, and was…I’m older now by a lot of years. I’m older than most of my competitors in the 50+ Senior Open mixed doubles brackets, especially in the finals. Take the last couple of tournaments which I partnered with Scott Moore: the SoCal Classic and Tournament of Champions. We had to play Jen Lucore and Steve Dawson in one and Alex Hamner and Scott Clayson in the other…We won each final in two straight games. All those players either just turned 50 or are no older than maybe 54?? I’m giving them 12-16 years! There can be a physical difference and that, in turn, can play on your mind. One has to play within oneself and within ones own game. It is based on your prior years of competing in sports. It comes down to one’s innate confidence…You have to know you are up to the task at hand, and that you bring to the court enough technical ability and smarts to beat anyone, any age, any day.

8. You and Yvonne Hackenberg are, without doubt, the best doubles team in your age group. Is there an advantage to playing with someone that you know so well on and off the court?

HM – Oh yes, definitely there is an advantage to playing with someone with whom you have had a long history. Yvonne and I met around 1976 or 77. We each had different partners and were competing on the Platform Tennis Tour. We had respect for each other, on court and off. The best way to find out about a person is to compete AGAINST them, and see how they treat their partner as well as how they treat you, their adversary. We played together as a team for about four years. We won, I think, four national APTA championships between 1979-1982. We were both inducted into the Hall of Fame for that sport in 1998. We know each other very well. We have seen how we respond to stress when our backs are up against the proverbial wall. We have seen each other play below what we expect of ourselves. We know that either of us can keep it going until the other finds her way again. We have seen each other come through the low points in a match just by hanging in there, gutting it out, encouraging and supporting the other through thick and thin. We know it is what it is…We have faith in ourselves as a team and as individuals. We know we can lose, but we enjoy the battle. This is why we win a lot…There might be an ‘i’ in ”win”, but not in ”team”.

9. I noticed that you studied drama at University. Do you still have an interest in the subject?

HM – Yes, I am still interested in theatre, situational comedy on television and writing. I look at Betty White and think I still have time!:).

10. I hope you have good luck at the Nationals…In the different mixed play brackets, I see you will be teamed up with Larry Moon and Ken Curry. Having watched Larry play in Kelowna, I know he’s awesome…What’s Ken like as a doubles partner?

HM – Yes, Larry Moon is awesome. He is so low key…I know he’s in it to win, but as his partner, all you hear is an occasional ”Oh Larry?!! or a giggle or laugh at something shared in confidence. He’s very easy to play with. We won the 60-64 mixed age at Nationals last year and are going to team up again this year….This is the first time I will have played with Ken Curry. He, I know, is very serious on the court. I am not, at least not on the ”outside”. I like to be light hearted on the outside because, God knows, there’s a treasure trove of things going on in the ”inside”!! Lol

11. My last question is in 3 parts…I’m sure my readers would like to know:- What is you philosophy for staying young, active and enthusiastic about life?…Is there a goal or something more you would still like to accomplish?…Would you consider getting into politics?

HM – Stay crazy. Laugh a lot. Be inquisitive. Be inventive. Say ”yes” a lot. Listen intently. Love other people immensely. Be grateful every day you are given. Get up every morning with a purpose. Savor a good meal with an old friend. Do whatever you can to help someone else. Be an explorer…of books, plays, music, nature, new activities and new friends. Appreciate the small things and be happy….In answer to your last question about politics–yes, I am a political junkie, but no, I would not make a good politician. I would offend half of them…To get elected today you have to be a snake oil salesman.

* Thanks Hilary for taking the time to contribute to my blog. I know you have a busy schedule. I enjoyed learning more about you.…In case anyone was wondering, there’s a reason I asked Hilary about politics…I have analyzed the political situation in the US presidential race and I have come to a startling conclusion – neither of the top 2 candidates has the support of the majority of their citizens!! Perhaps it is time for the electorate to consider someone different. Someone who could appeal to democrats, conservatives, republicans and liberals. The candidate I am thinking of would do well as the Commander in Chief because she has great integrity and has excelled at everything she has done in her life….If Hilary Marold was in the running next time I think she would get most of the votes:-) Think about it….Wouldn’t it be cool for America to have it’s first Pickleball President?

Video Links

* Hilary and Yvonne win gold at the 2014 TOC….

* Hilary and Yvonne win gold at the 2015 Huntsman Games…

* Winning tips from Hillary and Yvonne….

* Hilary and Yvonne take silver at the 2015 US Nationals…

* Hilary’s interview on the Pickleball Central Blog, in the Meet the Pickleball Pros section, is from Jan 27th, 2015 edition.

* Hilary and Yvonne’s opponents from the above US Nationals video are both Canadian players. Mona Burnett is from Calgary and Luba Zhekhovskaya lives in Surrey (I think)….I haven’t seen Luba on the tournament trail listings lately….. If anyone knows what she is up to lately, please send me an email. If she is up to answering a few questions, I would like to interview her.

US Nationals

* The big show began Sat., Nov 5th and ends Mon., Nov 14th….You can watch the live feed matches on the USAPA Facebook page…. As well as her MX doubles matches, Hilary is competing with Yvonne in the 2 senior doubles brackets….As I write, some early results are in for ladies doubles–Hilary and Yvonne took the gold medal in the +65 bracket!… One of my subscribers, Carolyn Bagley from Alaska, was playing in the finals against Hilary and Yvonne. Congratulations Carolyn, and your partner Diane Baumgartner, for taking the silver!…A big tap of the paddle to Nancy Stern, a well known player from Nanaimo. She took the bronze medal in the +60 bracket with her partner Dee Rochel!

* In local tournament news, there is a Partner Challenge event next Saturday, Nov 12th at Cedar Hill Rec Centre at 3220 Cedar Hill Rd in Saanich. The registration is full, but there is a good spectator gallery at Cedar Hill if you want to watch the action. This tournament attracts some of the best teams on Vancouver Island, and this is a opportunity to see some great games. Go by the mid afternoon if you want to get a good seat for the finals.

* In my next edition, I will trying to get some comments from some of the competitors who are down at the US Nationals in Casa Grande, AZ. For the pros, this is the most prestigious tournament of the year. It is a thrilling time to be on the championship courts at Palm Creek! I hope to give you a taste of the excitement in my next edition….Until then, keep your paddle up, and…

Thanks for the game,

DJ Baker.

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