Pickleball: the fastest growing sport

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America.

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America.

Woosh, whack! The wiffle-like ball sails across a low net and is volleyed back, then forth, across the court with a swat from players holding hard, large paddles and exchanging competitive, but friendly, banter. Hearing this blend of activity often piques the interest of passersby, and they curiously stop to watch the unique game of pickleball –  similar to tennis or badminton but played with large paddles and the aforementioned wiffle-like ball – one of the fastest growing sports in the United States.

According to the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), pickleball was founded in 1965 and became popular in pockets of various states, including Georgia. Now, the USAPA website reports that interest is growing worldwide, with over 400,000 active pickleball players in all 50 states, as well as many European and Asian locations.

If you’re watching pickleball for the first time, you may relate it to tennis, badminton, or table tennis as you see the ball being volleyed across a small court. And, if you’re playing it for the first time, you will probably simply respond with a three-letter word —“fun!”

After playing his first game of pickleball in Arizona, Joel Kinsman, a Peachtree City resident, says, “ I just knew I had to bring the sport here.” So in 2014 Joel became a volunteer USAPA Pickleball Ambassador, pledging to promote the sport of pickleball in his area. He is a self-proclaimed walking pickleball salesperson.

Joel was instrumental in the formation of the Peachtree City Pickleball Club. His enthusiasm is contagious; when talking to him, you can’t help but want to experience this new game. “I always urge people to come out and try playing it and to meet our fellow players,” he says. “We are a great group of people.”
If you try it, be forewarned—you may get hooked! Gail Cummins of Fayetteville says her friend, Betty Jackson, also of Fayetteville, encouraged her to try the game, and she quickly became addicted. “I love the social interaction with other players in the club,” says newcomer Gail. “It is a good physical activity and is easy to learn.” Betty, an avid, competitive player and co-vice-president of the PTC Pickleball Club, adds, “What’s nice is it can be played indoors or outdoors, and you can make it as intense as you want.”

As area residents of all ages, particularly women, embrace this fun game, county and city recreational facilities are opening court areas so players can practice and polish their skills. You may see a match occurring at Kedron Field House, at the ClubCorp tennis courts, the Bridge, and other recreational facilities.
Recently, Peachtree City mayor Vanessa Fleisch had an opportunity to play pickleball and meet some of the club members. “I thought it was a wonderful game, and it is great to see so many in our area enjoying the sport,” she comments.

The Pickleball Club in Peachtree City currently has over 70 members and is headed by president Patrick Cardinali of Peachtree City. According to Sharon Conrad, the organization’s co-vice-president, membership continues to increase monthly as individuals learn of the sport. “There is a $15 annual fee to help purchase equipment and paddles members can use,” she says. “We welcome everyone who wants to play to join us. Players are all ages, from high school to active seniors in their 80s.” She notes that not all who play are competitive, and many simply play for fun and exercise, joining the club for the social, off-court activities as well.

“Whether you are an athlete or not, you can participate,” Betty comments. “I have seen people in their sixties play who have never played a sport before. It is very fundamental.”

The game is particularly popular in retirement communities and is widely embraced by seniors who were once keen tennis or racquetball players and realize they cannot play at the elite level any longer. Hitting a slower moving ball on a smaller court (with a no-volley zone) has less impact on the joints than other court sports —although weekend-warrior injuries can still freakishly occur.

Interestingly, many senior citizens find that their children and grandchildren enjoy the game, too, and are often their fiercest and most entertaining competitors. Parents are also realizing that the game is an enjoyable family-time activity that is fun and affordable, and that provides exercise for everyone.

This is what a Pickleball ball looks like.

This is what a Pickleball ball looks like.

As awareness of this game expands, it is finding its way into physical education classes, fitness centers, community recreation programs, resorts, RV camps, and cruise ships. “I never travel without my racket,” says Joel. “I can always find a place to play and someone willing to play or learn. I simply log on to usapa.org, where pickleball venues and people who want to play are listed by state.”

Whether you’re new to pickleball and court games, are an avid athlete looking for another way to stay fit and burn calories, or you simply want to socialize, Sharon encourages area residents to come to a Peachtree City pickleball club meeting or join members on the court. “We are setting up beginner clinics so participants can learn the rules and techniques and meet players,” notes Sharon. “We designate other times for community and competitive play. The club also has social get-togethers so we can get acquainted off the courts.” Activities are posted on the PTC Pickleball website, ptcpickleball.com. “Our goal is to include everyone, make them feel welcome, and promote this great sport,” Sharon says.

So why is it called Pickleball?

Three men living outside Seattle, Wash., created Pickleball in 1965. They wanted to create a challenging game for their kids who were experiencing summertime boredom. While they were playing, one of the inventor’s dogs continually chased the game balls. The dog’s name was Pickles. Hence the name, Pickleball. Simple, really!

Interested in playing Pickleball?

Email Sharon Conrad or Patrick Cardinali

sharonmconrad@gmail.com ptcspindoctor@gmail.com for more information.

Websites:usapa.org  ptcpickleball.com

Shar Peters

Shar Peters has been freelance writing for more than 20 years. She lives in Peachtree City with her husband, Charlie, and their two dogs. Shar loves to travel, and with children and grandchildren living in six different states, there is always someone to visit, something to do, and a guaranteed new adventure in store.

October 2, 2015