When you think of a “typical college kid”, what do you picture? An 18-year old walking around with an oversized backpack and a pile of books? Perhaps a young adult with a look of pure excitement on her face, walking across the stage on her graduation day?
Would you picture a 68-year old married woman, with two kids and 7 grandchildren, with a degree she received over 40 years ago?
This is just an example of a typical student you’d meet at the Western Institute for Lifelong Learning, or WILL. According to their website, “WILL offers a lifetime adventure for continued intellectual discovery in a supportive, expansive, and informal learning environment – for eager learners of any age”. The idea for this sort of program stemmed directly from the local townspeople, who had seen similar ideas in other communities.
Offering 70 courses this fall, ranging from a one day hike to a semester long program, WILL is a unique opportunity for students who may not fall into the “traditional” age group. For only $75 per semester, students can take as many classes or activities as they want. Held at Western New Mexico University, inside the city limits of Silver City, the program is a convenient way to have both an active mind and an active body.
June Decker, the facilitator of the pickleball course, is thrilled that pickleball has caught on in her community. In 1979, Decker was teaching at a university in Vegas, where a coworker introduced her to pickleball. For years, they joked that they were the only two in New Mexico who knew how to play! After moving to Silver City from Vegas, Decker was determined to start pickleball as a part of the New Mexico Senior Olympics. Once they started playing at the state level, the cities wanted to join in on the fun as well. Decker had the skillset and the drive – all she needed was a facility. That’s when the WILL program came along. The Western New Mexico University already had good pickleball paddles and indoor pickleball balls, giving her a great opportunity to share pickleball.
Once pickleball was introduced, the community caught the pickleball craze! Decker jokes that she “never would have believed I would create a community of addicts”.
Pickleball is one of the most popular classes at WILL. When pickleball was first offered as a course in the fall of 2013, registration for the 18-person class was full within minutes of opening. There were so many people on the waiting list that the decision was made to create a second class section. This year, in addition to the beginner’s class, there is also an ‘Intermediate’ class offered for those who took the class the previous year. Each class lasts for about an hour, and there are thirteen sessions per semester (once per week).
Thanks to the large number of pickleball fans, Western New Mexico State now offers community play two days per week. There’s always enough space, thanks to the 6 outdoor courts and the 4 indoor courts in the university gym. Decker said, “I am very glad we have a pickleball community here so I have people to play with, and I’m glad that people enjoy this great sport.”
Decker keeps her advice for new players simple: “See the ball, hit the ball. If you think too much, you tend to over-teach, and then the [new student’s] heads are spinning!”
As the conversation ended, Decker started laughing while she joked, “We’re keeping senior citizens off the streets!”
Thanks for sharing your story with us, June!
Photos courtesy of http://www.will-learning.com/