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CHICAGO — On a sun-soaked morning at Seward Park on the city’s Near North Side, the crack of a paddle breaks through the quiet of a normally noisy neighborhood.

“All the parks are closed so we can’t play inside — and it’s a nice day — so taking advantage of it,” said pickle ball player Milan Kolundzija.

It’s not as much of a niche game as it sounds.

“Five million people are playing pickeball,” said player Sherri Balke.

The paddle sport has devoted competitors like Kolundzija — who plays three times a week.

“It’s very engaging, in normal situations, also lot of socialization during regular times,” he said.

Of course, these are far from regular times.

As he plays pickleball during a pandemic, the soon-to-be 70-year-old believes he’s taking precautions against the COVID-19 outbreak while still getting the benefits of daily exercise.

“I use my left hand for my ball, right hand for racket. If i have to touch my face, use my right hand. Have to keep things separate,” Kolundzija said.

Playing pickleball not only gives the players an excuse to get outside and be active, but also to retain a piece of their every day routine during these turbulent times.

“I exercise and play sports. It’s a tough time to for everybody. Gym closed last night, so let’s put together a pickleball game and see if we can get enough people — beautiful out 40 degrees. Why not, right?” said Balke.

Staying active while actively keeping a safe distance on the court. 

“Really don’t have contact with others, even before. Don’t high five, you slap the paddle,” said Kolundzija.