The sport of pickleball has exploded in popularity around the county, and during the past several years it has become a mainstay at the Highland County YMCA.
“We bought some nets and some paddles and balls and put it out, and a few people picked them up and gave it a try and fell in love with it, and it’s just been growing ever since,” said Highland County YMCA Transformation and Membership Director Jennifer Waterman.
The spread of the sport has been attributed to its popularity in community centers, gym classes, YMCA facilities and retirement communities.
Pickleball originated in 1965 when Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington state, and his friend Bill Bell returned to Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island near Seattle and found their families sitting around with nothing to do.
They were unable to use the property’s old badminton court because they didn’t have paddles, so they improvised a game using ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. Soon, they discovered the ball bounced well on the asphalt surface and lowered the net from 60 to 36 inches. They created the game to have something the whole family could play together.
In its modern incarnation, pickleball is a paddleball sport that combines aspects of badminton, table tennis and tennis that can be played by two or four players.
Rhonda Crum, from New Vienna, is an avid player at the Highland County YMCA’s Tuesday sessions that run from 9:30 a.m. to 12 noon. “All you think about when you’re in here is playing this game,” she said. “It’s a good head game, too, because you have to think positive and get over yourself and get over a bad hit. I think it’s a good spiritual and psychological event as well.”
Crum said she enjoys the camaraderie, teamwork and recreation of the sport.
Highland County YMCA Community Executive Director Chris Tracy said he started the program in Highland County about three or four years ago. “We have known it was just one of the largest growing sports in the nation, and we had a few snowbirds that go down to Florida each year, and it’s really popular down there, and they started asking questions and seeing if we could possibly get it here at the YMCA,” he said. “It started off slow, and it took us until now, but really in 2021 it started to really take off.”
Sixteen to 18 die hard players show up each week for the Tuesday rounds of the game, and Waterman said about 40 people come to play regularly.
“Every day we have a few more people getting curious because they see these people out here playing, and they want to try it,” said Waterman. “The ones that are out there playing now have been playing for a year or two so they’ve gotten pretty good at it.”
Waterman said part of the allure of the game is that it can be played indoors or outdoors on a tennis court, badminton court, or gym floor year-round. “It’s an easy enough game that somebody in elementary can play or an elderly adult can play. You can make it slow or you can make it fast depending on how quickly you hit the ball,” she said.
She said most of the current players at the YMCA are 40 and above because they have the time to come in during the day, and the gym is typically filled with people playing basketball in the evenings. “I want to introduce it to some younger people, and I think once they have tried it, it would also stick with them,” said Waterman.
In addition to the Tuesday rounds of pickleball at the YMCA, the sport is also open to new players on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., and Waterman said those hours will probably be extended to noon.
“If the court is empty or at least one section of the court is empty, all they have to do is come to our front desk, and we will supply them with paddles and balls,” said Waterman.
The local YMCA is contemplating holding a live competition that includes other YMCA locations in the future.
“I know a lot of the older population likes it because there is not as much lateral movement, so it’s really popular within that generation,” said Tracy. “It’s really taken off in our area, and we’re looking forward to serving others in the community.
Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571