INDIAN TRAIL – As spring break was winding down last week, Carolina Courts was abuzz with activity.
One side of the massive indoor complex was full of school-aged children taking part in a basketball clinic that encompassed several courts. The other half of the complex was filled with people playing games on nine “mini” tennis courts.
Most of the players on these “mini” courts last enjoyed a spring break from school decades ago but their enthusiasm and competitive spirit matched their younger counterparts across the way at the basketball clinic.
But Pickleball, not basketball, was the game at hand.
Pickleball – a sport that is a mix of tennis, badminton and ping-pong – is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. It is especially popular with seniors and those baby boomers quickly approaching retirement.
Players use a paddle, which resembles an oversized ping-pong paddle and a hard plastic ball that is very similar to a Whiffle ball. The court is about a third of the size of a tennis court.
With less ground to cover, it is perfect for players of all ages and athletic abilities. The smaller court creates a social atmosphere. It’s also good exercise for the estimated 2.5 million participants nationwide.
Carolina Courts, because if its 12 courts, Pickleball clinics and leagues, is one of the more popular venues in the area. The complex is Pickleball central most mornings during the work week, especially during the school year. But the game is also played at nearly 40 other indoor and outdoor locations in the Charlotte region.
Abe Williams picked up the sport several years ago and he helps run the Pickleball program at Carolina Courts. Last week, Williams was watching a beginner’s clinic being conducted by Bill Campbell.
“It’s probably the most popular facility,” Williams said. “We have 12 courts and all levels of players show up here. It’s good to have those different levels because you can advance from beginner to the top level. Some people drive 90 minutes to come here to play. We started with just a few courts and it is now the fastest growing sport in the country. On some days we will have 60 players in here.”
Players can buy a paddle from $60 to $100 and many venues provide the balls. Carolina Courts has its own supply of paddles to loan for those looking for a first taste of the sport.
“It is a friendly game,” Williams said. “It’s really good for seniors because you don’t have to run a lot. Women are just as good, and some are better, than men. It is not just dominated by men. Ninety-nine percent of the people that try it come back. It’s a good way to get in shape and lose weight. After the first time I played it, I went home that night and ordered a paddle.”
Dick and Desiré Osman, who live in the Ballantyne area, started playing Pickleball four years ago and the couple quickly became hooked. So much so that the Osmans are the lead ambassadors for the sport in Mecklenburg and Union counties for the USA Pickleball Association.
“We were golfers, and my golf game had gone in the tubes,” Desiré Osman said. “I needed another sport, and a friend of ours who is a tennis player suggested Pickleball. We went to a clinic and we were there about 15 minutes and we were looking at each other across the net, and we said, ‘oh yeah, this is our sport.’”
Dick Osman used to play tennis but he had never heard of Pickleball before being introduced to the sport.
“My reaction was, ‘what is Pickleball?’” Dick Osman said. “We could see quickly some of the benefits of it. It is fast-paced, but it is not hard running like in tennis so it is easier on your body. It is easy to learn. This is a game that is easy to play, be competitive and have a good time.”
The Osmans work with nine local ambassadors to promote and grow the sport. Williams works with the Osmans as the Union County ambassador.
“There was no connection between the local venues on how to talk and get in touch with each other,” Desiré Osman said. “I said, ‘OK, I’m going to start an e-mail list.’ I started with 10, 15 people and now we have over 700 people that have signed up with us. From that, I started putting out an email newsletter about what was going on, or about a rule that I had read.”
Campbell said he sees the growth in the sport on almost a weekly basis.
“Six courts used to be a big day,” Campbell said. “It has grown a lot in just the last year.”
What is Pickleball?
Pickleball is a paddle sport for players of all ages and levels of athletic ability and it is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. It is easy for beginners to learn and it is a challenging, fast-paced and competitive game for more experienced players. Players use a paddle and a hard plastic ball.
Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. Like tennis, players can play singles or doubles but most players opt for doubles competition. Pickleball is played both indoors and outdoors on a badminton-sized court measuring 20-feet wide and 44-feet long, which is about one-third the size of a tennis court.
Where to play Pickleball
Charlotte, Matthews and Indian Trail: Dowd YMCA, Jewish Community Center, Mallard Creek Rec Center, Providence Baptist Church, Simmons YMCA, Tuckaseegee Rec Center, Belle Johnston Community Center, Marion Diehl Rec Center, Johnston YMCA, Betty Rae Thomas Center; Crews Road Recreation Center-Matthews; Carolina Courts-Indian Trail.
More information and other locations to play Pickleball can be found at www.usapa.org.