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Big worry for folks heading to the hospital: Who will care for my pet?

October 18, 2021

Many people fear checking into hospitals, for any of a number of reasons, from loss of control to claustrophobia, to fear of blood or germs, to qualms about doctors and medical professionals, to phobias about needles or fear of death.

But Dr. Tiffany Braley, a neurologist at University of Michigan Health/Michigan Medicine, in Ann Arbor who works with patients who have experienced strokes and other serious health conditions, says she has noticed a different, compelling motivation among patients who resist being admitted to or staying in the hospital: They just want to get home, because they have no one to care for their beloved pets, U.S. News reports.

“I was pretty struck by the experience. I realized at that point that I was discovering what I thought was likely an unrecognized need among the hospitalized patients,” said Braley,

“I knew there wasn’t a lot of information on this topic. So, I reached out to several colleagues here at Michigan Medicine from social work and from nursing who also love animals. They confirmed that, in general, hospital systems really don’t have formalized plans in place to assess pet care needs or to help provide assistance with pet care for patients who are in a hospital,” she said.

“I learned very quickly that it’s usually social work who’s called upon to handle this task, if they find out sometime during a hospitalization that a patient needs help with pet care, but often they’re not brought in to help until late in the hospital course. And, at that point, they usually don’t have many resources to offer patients,” Braley noted.

Working through their office of patient experience, Michigan Medicine researched the issue, reaching out to approximately 1,300 “patient advisors,” a network of former patients and family members who had previously offered to share experiences.

The team got responses from 113 people, 63% of whom said they had experienced difficulty when figuring out pet care during their own hospitalizations or the hospitalizations of a loved one.

About 33% said their decision or the decision of someone they knew about whether to stay in the hospital as recommended by the medical team was impacted by their pet care needs.

And about 16% of respondents said they knew someone who had left the hospital against medical advice to care for their pets.

“The overwhelming majority also really saw value in developing better systems, including foster care programs, maybe partnerships with foster care programs, to help address this need for patients who are hospitalized,” Braley told U.S. News.

It’s not an issue for everyone. Some patients do have family, friends or neighbors who quickly step in to care for a pet when someone is hospitalized, but for some patients their primary social network is their pet.

“We don’t know, are they at home without food? Are they all by themselves? Are they at risk while their owners are in the hospital?” Braley said.

Possible solutions, in addition to the first step of asking patients about their pets early in their care, could be creating partnerships between hospital systems and community pet care services, whether those are humane societies or other foster programs.

“We’ve been in preliminary discussions already with the Michigan Humane Society, [which] is very eager to help become a potential partner and scale up resources as necessary in order to address this need,” Braley said.

Michigan Humane Society already does some work through its compassionate foster care program offering foster care for pets that are  in situations similar to what Braley has described, said Matt Pepper, CEO and president of the Humane Society.

“The health care system obviously needs to recognize and be asking people when they’re scheduling critical treatments or for any type of hospitalization, ‘Do you have a pet and do you need help with your pet?’ And then it’s incumbent upon organizations like us to work collectively with them to create those solutions,” Pepper said.

The Humane Society’s program isn’t a huge network of foster homes, Pepper said, but could support several families who need pet care while seeking medical treatment.

“The other part of that is I think that we need to do a better job of not only making the healthcare system aware of this, but make the community aware that this is an opportunity for people to help and step in,” Pepper said. “The more awareness we bring to it, it elevates another opportunity for the community to get involved in not only helping animal welfare and the pets that are involved, but in helping their neighbors and … fellow residents of their communities.”

 Research contact: @usnews

Former Boeing pilot is indicted in probe of 737 MAX crashes

October 18, 2021

A federal grand jury in Texas has indicted a former Boeing  pilot—alleging that he deceived air-safety regulators about a flight-control system that later was blamed for sending two 737 MAX jets into fatal nosedives, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Mark A. Forkner, 49 years old, was charged with six counts of fraud related to his alleged role in persuading the Federal Aviation Administration to approve pilot-trai

The crashes occurred in late 2018 and early 2019 and took 346 lives.

David Gerger, an attorney for Forkner, did not respond to requests for comment late Thursday, the Journal notes. Gerger has previously said that Forkner, a pilot and Air Force veteran, wouldn’t endanger pilots or passengers and that his communications with regulators were honest.

However, prosecutors allege that Forkner, in his role as Boeing’s 737 MAX chief technical pilot, withheld crucial information from the FAA about the flight-control system known as MCAS. As a result of his alleged deception, a key FAA report, pilot manuals and training materials lacked references to the system, defrauding Boeing’s airline customers, prosecutors said.

Forkner “abused his position of trust by intentionally withholding critical information about MCAS,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. said in a statement.

Forkner was expected to make an initial court appearance on Friday in Fort Worth, prosecutors said. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud, and 10 years in prison for each count of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce.

Boeing and the FAA declined to comment. The case against Forkner is the first time an individual has faced charges related to the dual MAX crashes, the first of which occurred three years ago this month. Boeing reached a $2.5 billion settlement with the Justice Department earlier this year.

Research contact: @WSJ

This breast cancer charity is the big new ‘scam’ in politics

October 18, 2021

This October, as Americans mark another Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many organizations and advocates are looking for ways to support the cause. But The Daily Beast reports, there’s one group that donors may wan to avoid: The American Breast Cancer Coalition.

Although it sounds like a noble charity, the ABCC actually is a political group—a political action committee (PAC)—and rather than trying to actually address breast cancer, the ABCC appears to be a scheme to extract millions of dollars in donations, mostly from small contributors.

In recent robocalls, a feminine voice claims the goal of the group’s fundraising is to “support legislators who will fight for the fast-track approval of life-saving breast cancer health bills and breast cancer treatment drugs to the FDA.”

But financial records on file with the Internal Revenue Service tell a different story—reviewed in a joint investigation between The Daily Beast and OpenSecrets—revealing payments to firms with ties to a multimillion-dollar “scam PAC” network.

In May 2019, Bill Davis created the nonprofit, and the group quickly started raising money.

In the space of two years, ABCC has brought in nearly $3.57 million, according to IRS filings. But the nonprofit has so far paid nearly every dollar it has raised to fundraising companies. According to The Daily Beast, some of those companies even have ties to a telemarketing kingpin who was fined $56 million last year for bilking donors out of tens of millions of dollars in fake charity contributions.

What’s more, it’s not alone.

The ABCC is just one of a number of political groups masquerading as charities, known broadly as “scam PACs.” These shady organizations purport to raise money for a number of heart-tugging issues—e.g., law enforcement, wounded veterans, firefighters, children with disabilities—but plow nearly every dollar back into raising more money, often in major payouts to the same network of shady telemarketing companies and other firms.

By registering as a political group instead of a charity organization, scam PACs can usually operate in a legal gray area beyond the reach of authorities that regulate campaign finance and nonprofit activity.

But the ABCC case is even more brazen. Even though the ABCC is a PAC, unlike typical scam PACs, it has not registered with the Federal Election Commission. Instead, it has registered with the IRS as a “527” political group—an apparently recent (and legal) tactical shift to make investigations more difficult for the public, the press, and regulators.

Political groups known as 527s—so named after a section of the tax code that governs their operations—are tax-exempt nonprofits that are supposed to operate primarily to influence the “selection, nomination, election, appointment, or defeat of candidates for federal, state, or local public office.”

While 527s are allowed to make expenditures for reasons that do not relate to political campaign activities, such as lobbying, those groups may be subject to taxes on activities that do not further political purposes.

Any political group whose “major purpose” is the nomination or election of federal candidates is required to register with the FEC as a federal political committee. But these 527 groups are not subject to FEC oversight, and are often called “shadow groups.”

The IRS does require 527s to disclose and itemize all contributors that give more than $200 in a calendar year, as well as the expenditures that they make. But unlike federal political committees, whose contribution and expenditure data is readily searchable on the FEC website, information about these 527s is largely locked away in PDF files with the IRS and difficult to find and digest.

A number of 527 “shadow groups” share the same familiar raising and spending patterns. Among them are the Cancer Recovery Action Network, the National Cancer Alliance, the National Committee for Volunteer Firefighters, the American Police Officers Alliance, the National Coalition for Disabled Veterans and several similarly named organizations, which all pay a network of loosely affiliated companies.

Eric Friedman, head of Maryland’s Montgomery County Department of Consumer Protection, has spent the last two years unraveling these networks. In 2019, he busted a ring of scam PACs, and asked the FEC to investigate a group called the Breast Cancer Health Council.

Speaking to The Daily Beast, Friedman likened the task to an “almost impossible” game of whack-a-mole, and said his small research team had also noted that groups have shifted from FEC-registered PACs to 527s.

“Scammers are clever and constantly moving. So it looks like the trajectory started as phony charities, [which] then decided they were better off operating as phony FEC groups, and now the latest transition—just in time for Halloween, I guess—is to be a phony PAC registered with the IRS instead of with the FEC,” Friedman said.

Asked why these groups have made the new shift, Friedman said it was complicated, “but the short of it is that it’s easier to hide what they’re doing, so we’re now looking at that phase of the scam.”

Lloyd Mayer, a nonprofit law expert at the University of Notre Dame Law School, explained why the change poses a new hurdle.

“The obvious reason to move away from being a federal political committee to a 527 is the FEC actually has a full staff look at all reports that are filed. The IRS could do that in theory, but they don’t,” Mayer said, noting that the available IRS staff—already stretched thin—is “an order of magnitude” smaller for this work.

“No one is looking to see if the filings make sense, if the math is correct, if the numbers are semi-accurate,” he added. “You could shade them, lie, misrepresent, fudge, make it hard to see.”

Phil Hackney, a nationally recognized nonprofit law expert at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said he is most frequently concerned about the opposite scheme—political groups posing as nonprofits—and had never seen this approach.

“I don’t know of anybody looking at the question of someone using a 527 as a vehicle to carry out a scam. It’s actually hard to say something about it, because you don’t have a body of law addressing vehicles being used in this way, and I’m not sure if you could use tax law to crack down,” Hackney said.

But he noted that the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general may have jurisdiction “regarding consumer interest protections and possible wire fraud,” an observation shared by multiple campaign finance and nonprofit law experts.

Research contact @thedailybeast

To boldly go: William Shatner sets record in space with Blue Origin sub-orbital flight

October 14, 2021

William Shatner, the 90-year-old veteran of countless imaginary space voyages playing Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, blasted off for real Wednesday, October 13,—becoming the oldest person to reach the final frontier in a PR bonanza for Jeff Bezos and his rocket company Blue Origin, reports CBS News.

Over the course of about 11 minutes, Shatner and three crewmates took off atop a hydrogen-fueled rocket, climbed to edge of space more than 62 miles up and enjoyed three to four minutes of weightlessness, along with spectacular views of Earth, before plunging back to a gentle parachute-assisted touchdown.

“It was so moving to me,” Shatner said after landing. “This experience is something unbelievable.”

He said he was overwhelmed, and that Bezos has given him the most profound experience he can imagine. “I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened … it’s extraordinary,” he told Bezos.

“I hope I never recover from this. I hope that I can maintain what I feel now,” he said. “I don’t want to lose it.”

The flight marked only the second crewed launch of a New Shepard capsule since Bezos, his brother Mark, 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk, and Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen took off on July 20 on the company’s first such flight.

Shatner eclipsed Funk’s age record by eight years and John Glenn’s mark before that by 13.

“I want to see space, I want to see the Earth, I want to see what we need to do to save Earth,” Shatner told Gayle King on “CBS Mornings” before launch. “I want to have a perspective that hasn’t been shown to me before. That’s what I’m interested in seeing.”

Boshuizen and de Vries paid undisclosed sums for their seats aboard the New Shepard spacecraft, but Shatner was an invited guest of Blue Origin. Powers, a former NASA flight controller who is now Blue Origin vice president of flight operations, flew as a company representative.

While the New Shepard rocket and capsule are only capable of up-and-down sub-orbital flights, Shatner and his crewmates endured the same liftoff accelerations space shuttle astronauts once felt—about three times the normal force of gravity — and even higher “G loads” during descent back into the lower atmosphere.

Even so, Shatner and his crewmates were considered passengers, not astronauts, aboard the automated New Shepard. But professional astronauts nonetheless welcomed them to the brotherhood of space travelers.

I’m impressed. I mean, he’s 90 years old and showing that somebody at his age can actually fly to space,” Matthias Maurer, a European Space Agency astronaut launching to the International Space Station at the end of the month, told CBS News.

“Even if it’s, let’s say, just a sub-orbital flight, I’m highly impressed, and I wish him all the best. Hopefully it will be the experience of a lifetime. And yeah, I hope many more people will follow his steps and also experience space.”

Blue Origin’s 18th New Shepard flight began at 10:49 a.m. (EDT) when the BE-3 engine powering the company’s 53-foot-tall booster ignited with a roar, throttled up to 110,000 pounds of thrust and lifted off from Launch Site One at the company’s West Texas launch site near Van Horn.

Climbing straight up, the booster quickly accelerated as it consumed propellant and lost weight, reaching a velocity of about 2,200 mph and an altitude of some 170,000 feet before engine shutdown.

The New Shepard capsule then separated from the booster at an altitude of about 45 miles and both continued climbing upward on ballistic trajectories, but rapidly slowing.

The onset of weightlessness began shortly after separation. All four passengers were free to unstrap and float about as the capsule reached the top of its trajectory and arced over for the long fall back to Earth. The New Shepard capsule is equipped with some of the largest windows in a currently flying spacecraft, giving Shatner, de Vries, Boshuizen and Powers picture-window views of Earth far below.

Plunging back into the dense lower atmosphere, the passengers, back in their padded, reclining seats, were briefly subjected to more than five times the normal force of gravity before three large parachutes deployed and inflated, slowing the craft to about 15 mph, CBS News reports.

An instant before touchdown, compressed-air thrusters were programmed to fire, slowing the ship to just 2 mph or so for landing.

A few minutes earlier, the New Shepard booster flew itself back to a pinpoint landing a few miles away, reigniting its BE-3 engine, deploying four landing legs and settling to a concrete landing pad. Assuming no problems are found, the rocket will be refurbished and prepared for another flight.

The mission marked the sixth piloted commercial, non-government sub-orbital spaceflight in a high-stakes competition between Bezos’ Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, owned by British billionaire Richard Branson.

Research contact: @CBSNews

Social Security benefits will rise 5.9% in 2022—the most in four decades

October 14, 2021

Social Security benefits will increase 5.9% in 2022, the Social Security Administration announced on Wednesday, October 13—the biggest boost in 40 years, coming as prices for food, cars and rent continue to surge, reports The New York Times.

The increase, known as a cost of living adjustment, is the largest since 1982 and will affect nearly 70 million recipients, according to data from the Social Security Administration. It comes as consumer prices in the United States have seen their sharpest increase in years. The adjustment is tied to the Labor Department’s  Consumer Price Index, which rose 5.4% in September from a year earlier.

Inflation has accelerated this year as the global economy recovers from pandemic-driven lockdowns. Early on, the price gains were driven by rebounding airfares, rates and other items that had seen a collapse in demand in 2020. More recently, shortages of products or challenges transporting them to consumers have added to the gains, the Times notes.

Consumer Price Index data released on Wednesday, October 13, showed that prices jumped more than expected last month. The price gains came as housing prices firmed, and as food—especially meat and eggs—cost consumers more.

The maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax will also increase to $147,000 from $142,800, the administration said.

Jo Ann Jenkins, chief executive officer of AARP, said the increase was necessary for families and beneficiaries to keep up with rising costs. “The guaranteed benefits provided by Social Security and the COLA increase are more crucial than ever as millions of Americans continue to face the health and economic impacts of the pandemic,” Jenkins said in a statement released after the announcement.

Among the beneficiaries, 37% of men and 42% of women receive at least half of their income from Social Security, according to an administration fact sheet.

Nearly nine out of 10 people age 65 and older were receiving a benefit as of the end of last year. Older Americans, people with disabilities, and children and spouses of recipients who are deceased are eligible for the benefits.

Research contact: @nytimes

USA will re-open Canadian and Mexican borders to fully vaccinated visitors

October 14, 2021

The United States plans to ease restrictions on travel for fully vaccinated visitors from Canada and Mexico starting in early November, relaxing bans that have been in place for more than 18 months, according to senior administration officials, reports CNN.

The new rules—which are similar to those announced for international air passengers—will be rolled out in a phased approach:

  • The first phase, kicking off in early November, will allow fully vaccinated visitors traveling for nonessential reasons, like visiting friends or for tourism, to cross U.S. land borders.
  • The second phase, starting in early January 2022, will apply the vaccination requirement to all inbound foreign travelers, whether traveling for essential or nonessential reasons.

“These new vaccination requirements deploy the best tool we have in our arsenal to keep people safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19 and will create a consistent, stringent protocol for all foreign nationals traveling into the United States whether by land or air,” a senior administration official told reporters.

The United States has been limiting nonessential travel on the ground along its borders with Canada and Mexico since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and extending those restrictions on a monthly basis. Air travel between the US and those countries has been possible. The restrictions don’t apply to cross-border trade, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, or to people traveling for medical purposes or to attend school, among others.

The latest set of restrictions is due to expire on October 21. Senior administration officials said the limits on cross-border travel will remain in effect until a soon-to-be-disclosed date in November.

A Trump-era public health order that’s allowed for the swift expulsion of more than 958,000 migrants also will stay in effect. Those restrictions, while also based on public health, are necessary because of concerns over migrants in congregate settings when undergoing processing, officials said.

The travel restrictions had come under heavy scrutiny by lobbyists, lawmakers and border mayors who implored the Biden administration to adjust limits to meet the evolving landscape.

Research contact: @CNN


What is ‘Squid Game’ and why is everyone watching it?

October 13, 2021

Released on September 17, a nine-episode Korean thriller named “Squid Game” has become more than just a runaway hit for Netflix. It’s also social media’s favorite show,: The hashtag #SquidGame on TikTok has been viewed more than 22.8 billion times, NBC News reports.

Released Sept. 17, the nine-episode Korean thriller is poised to become Netflix’s biggest “non-English-language show in the world,” said Sarandos.

“It’s only been out for nine days, and it’s a very good chance it’s going to be our biggest show ever,” Netflix’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos told NBC last month.

And it’s not just popular in the USA: Flix Patrol, a website that tracks streaming statistics for the top platforms in the world, reports that “Squid Game” is the No. 1 show in dozens of countries, among them, the USA, the UK,  and South Korea.

Streaming numbers for Netflix aren’t independently verified, making a show’s popularity difficult to quantify. Netflix executives didn’t respond to requests for comment from NBC.

Julia Alexander, a senior strategy analyst at Parrot Analytics in Brooklyn, New York, said it’s clear that “Squid Game” has been a massive success, adding that she would use one word to describe how big a win it has been for Netflix.

“‘Unprecedented,'” Alexander said. “I’m assuming that the executives knew because of the talent they used, because of the region they released it in, that this was going to be a hit in South Korea. I would put good money that the executives had no idea this was going to be a global hit.”

The show follows Seong Gi-Hun, played by Lee Jung-jae, as he and hundreds of other desperate and deeply indebted contestants compete in a violent and often grotesque competition for about $38 million. Only one person can win the prize, and those who lose the series of children’s games pay with their lives.

On social media, users can’t stop talking about “Squid Game. “People hear about it, people talk about it, people love it, and there’s a very social aspect to that, which does help grow the show outside of what we do,” Netflix’s global TV head, Bela Bajaria, told Vulture.

Another reason “Squid Game” has become such a worldwide phenomenon is its accessibility. The show is filmed in Korean, but Netflix offers subtitles in 37 languages and dubs in 34 languages, allowing those who would rather not read subtitles to enjoy it, too.

Even the way the show is subtitled and dubbed has opened conversations online, where some say the translations miss crucial context.

“Not to sound snobby but i’m fluent in korean and i watched squid game with english subtitles and if you don’t understand korean you didn’t really watch the same show. translation was so bad. the dialogue was written so well and zero of it was preserved,” Twitter user Youngmi Mayer tweeted in a thread that has gone viral.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Trump closes in on a deal to sell marquee Washington, D.C., hotel

October 13, 2021

The Miami-based CGI Merchant Group currently is in talks to pay ex-President Donald Trump’s family company around $370 million for the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.—which, during the last administration, attracted GOP lawmakers, lobbyists and other political attention-grabbers, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., is located in the former Old Post Office, a short walk down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House in a building featuring some of the largest guest rooms in the capital.

The property is owned by the federal government, but with extensions the lease runs close to 100 years. CGI also has entered into discussions with hotel operators, including Hilton Worldwide HoldingsWaldorf Astoria luxury brand, about removing the Trump name in favor of that of another hotel manager, NBC News sources said.

The lease deal could ultimately fetch closer to $400 million, which would represent roughly a doubling of the money the Trump Organization spent to convert the government building into a luxury hotel, said one of the people familiar with the matter.

The Trump Organization initially hoped to sell the lease for close to $500 million, a person familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal in 2019.

The hotel sales talks have been heating up as Democratic-controlled House committees have been investigating and holding hearings on potential conflicts of interest and emoluments issues surrounding Trump.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform has been examining the lease terms between the Trump Organization and the federal government’s General Services Administration for use of the Old Post Office. The deal predates Mr. Trump’s entry into national politics, but the committee is probing how well Trump managed conflicts of interest while president.

A Friday report from the House committee said the hotel lost more than $70 million between its opening in 2016 and last year—leading the company to inject at least $24 million in aid.

Research contact: @WSJ

Obama to campaign for McAuliffe next week in tight race for Virginia governor

October 13, 2021

Former President Barack Obama will join a rally for Terry McAuliffe next week as part of an all-out effort by Democrats to win Virginia’s gubernatorial race, The Hill reports.

Obama will join McAuliffe on October 23 in Richmond. The news comes after McAuliffe’s campaign announced that First Lady Jill Biden and former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams will campaign with him this weekend.

McAuliffe, who is in a tight race with Republican Glenn Youngkin, made the announcement on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” exactly three weeks from Election Day in the Old Dominion. The voter registration deadline in Virginia is on Tuesday, October 12.

Youngkin’s campaign responded to the news, saying it was a sign McAuliffe’s campaign was getting nervous ahead of the election.

“Terry McAuliffe is scared because Virginians are roundly rejecting 40-year politician Terry McAuliffe’s plans to defund the police, strip parents of their rights to have a say in their children’s education, and to fire people who don’t follow his authoritarian vaccine mandates, so his response is to bring in more politicians to help draw a crowd larger than 12 people,” Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said in a statement to the Hill. “Glenn Youngkin is an outsider focused on delivering for the people of Virginia and making the state the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”

The two are locked in a close contest that may come down to turnout on both sides. Democrats have won the presidential race in Virginia every cycle since 2008, when Obama was on the ticket.

A Christopher Newport University poll released last week showed McAuliffe leading Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin by 4 points, within the survey’s 4.2 percentage point margin of error. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race as a “toss-up.”

Research contact: @thehill

Pickleball: The most popular sport you’ve (probably) never heard of

October 12, 2021

There’s a wildly popular racket game that is easier than tennis and is drawing enthusiastic players of all ages and abilities—even former couch potatoes—nationwide: It’s called pickleball, but it doesn’t involve swatting around a small, briny vegetable, reports MetroWest Daily News in Massachusetts .

Created in the 1960s in Washington State, pickleball perhaps is best described as a combination of other sports.  Players wield a paddle similar to the one used in ping pong and a small sphere akin to a Wiffle Ball. The game is played on a badminton-sized court split by a net.

It’s not a test of who is the strongest or the tallest, it’s just a test of who could be the smartest while playing a game, using strategy as opposed to just strength,” John Pelaez who picked up the game three years ago, told MetroWest News. “It’s like chess, in a way. You’ve got to pick your shots, and make sure that each shot leads to the next.”

Pelaez picked up the game when he was trying to find something he and his sports-averse wife could play together. Now, he competes in tournaments in different states, coaches in towns like Millis (26 miles southwest of Boston) and senior centers, and is the pickleball coordinator at Kingsbury Club in Medfield. Being able to go from beginner to coach and competitor so quickly is a contributing factor to the game’s popularity. 

Pelaez said he’s played and coached many sports, and found pickleball to be the most unifying—creating communities of players wherever courts are available. There are also unique rules to the game that extend gameplay and even the playing field, so to speak, like the two-bounce rule.

When the ball is served, it needs to bounce once before it is returned, and then bounce again before players can rush forward to the net to try to return shots out of the air—but they can’t get too close.

The court is set up almost like a mirror image of a smaller version of a singles tennis court—meaning that the service boxes are at the far ends of the court, and a line runs parallel to the net on each side. Players cannot pass over that line into what is called the no volley zone or, informally, the kitchen.

“I actually love the kitchen—the no volley zone—because it keeps the game honest,” Pelaez said. “In pickleball, you can’t be very close to the net and just block every shot. You have to respect the boundary. And that makes the game a lot more fun.”

“It’s not like tennis where you spend years serving and chasing the ball. You actually start hitting a pickleball over the net the first time you practice,” said Dennis Pollard, the coordinator of the Marlborough Ward Pickleball Steering committee. “That’s what a lot of people find enjoyable. They’re having fun right away.”

Pelaez said that people who have played tennis or racquetball can usually pick up the game easily, but he’s also taught players who have never picked up a racquet before and went on to play competitively in just a few months.

The ball is large—about 3 inches in diameter—and easy to see.

Hitting is more about being strategic and practiced than being strong, and the court is small enough that sprinting long distances isn’t necessary, so people of all ages and abilities can play fairly competitively with each other—youths with seniors and entire families, for example.

“It’s kind of been stereotyped as an elderly sport. But I think that stigma is being dispelled,” said Bob Zalvan, of Millis, who puts out a weekly newsletter with information about open play times and clinics to almost 100 people.

Pelaez said Zalvan was key to helping the community of players grow, and he thought bringing the sport to different towns would “build enough momentum by itself that eventually, a Bob will come.”

Last Saturday, more than 20 people came out to play, exceeding the capacity of the seven outdoor courts in Millis—but it’s not just townies.

“The people here, I think, are coming from surrounding towns because they enjoy the group of people that they are playing with,” Zalvan said. “You go there to socialize and play. You’re getting exercise and getting your Vitamin D outside. The social aspect is big.”

Kris Fogarty, the recreation director for Millis, proposed putting in outdoor pickleball courts when the tennis courts at the elementary school were being redone after seeing the popularity of a single indoor court at town hall, made with a travel net and taped lines. The community of players has grown, in part because people play once and usually get hooked.

“I’m telling you, you drive by those courts at any time of day and people are there,” Fogarty said. “Like they say, If you build it, they will come. And they have.”

Research contact: @metrowestdailynews