In a pickle, grab a paddle: pickleball grows in popularity

Seniors Alex Zemberi (right) and Emma Harter (left) play pickleball at Four Bridges Country Club.

Carly Prows | The Chronicle

Pickleball is taking over the nation, one tennis court at a time.

According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the nation. With a 40 percent increase in the number of players since 2020, five million Americans have fallen in love with the sport, and the numbers are only growing.

Like tennis, pickleball can be played with two (singles) or four (doubles) players. The game begins with a server hitting the ball over the net to land in the crosscourt service area. During the game, players will stand on opposing sides of the net and hit the ball after one bounce to the other side of the net. One point is earned if the opposing side cannot return the ball. “The kitchen” is a seven-foot area on each side of the net where players can only cross once the ball bounces. The game is over when a team scores 11, 15, or 21 points.

New pickleball facilities are being built around the country, and in Mason, many clubs and parks are repurposing courts to account for this pickleball growth. Lifetime Fitness, a popular gym for many Mason residents, has taken the community’s passion for pickleball into their own hands. Lifetime Pickleball Coordinator Laura Toomb said the club is currently adding six pickleball courts to the space once occupied by an indoor soccer field. 

“When I took over, there were maybe twelve [pickleball] regulars and some sporadic [members],” Toomb said. “Now, I send an email each week to 360 pickleball players.”

Though the pickleball courts will not be ready for play until mid-November, pickleball players can easily adapt to the gymnasium for the time being. Unlike most sports, players do not need to rely on athletic ability or experience to have a good time.

“In tennis, you have to [have skill], reserve courts, and find people to play,” Toomb said. “In pickleball, all you have to do is show up with a racquet in your hand [ready to] play”

Sawyer Point Park provides another location for pickleball frequenters in Mason. In a matter of two years, the park transformed from a vacant strip of tennis courts to 18 brand-new pickleball courts. President of Sawyer Point Gary Lessis, and the rest of the Sawyer Point committee, saw the explosion in pickleball popularity and worked to create this change.

“We’ve created a world-class facility,” Lessis said. “And, probably the biggest thing is that we have [a system] that welcomes everyone.” 

With Sawyer Point Park’s recent transformation, Lessis has begun to recognize the profitability of pickleball by giving players free access to courts at all times.

“There are fewer barriers to play pickleball,” Lessis said. “Paddles and balls are inexpensive, most outside court facilities are free, and pickleball is much more social than tennis.”

This recent wave of pickleball fever is not exclusive to adults. Pickleball has made its way around Mason High School (MHS), and students such as senior Alex Zemberi have taken a genuine interest in the sport.

“I played once or twice a week with my friend in the summer,” Zemberi said. “I like how it’s fast-paced, and it’s definitely easy to pick up on.”

Zemberi had recently learned about pickleball this past summer but grew fond of it quickly. Though Zemberi does not play pickleball competitively, she said she could envision herself continuing her hobby in the future.

“I would [potentially] play pickleball on one of those intramural [teams],” Zemberi said. “Not anything high-level, but totally for fun.”

Zemberi often played with Senior Emma Harter at Four Bridges country club over the summer. Harter’s grandparents introduced her to the sport four years ago, and she has continued playing ever since. Harter said she enjoys the aspects of pickleball that differentiate it from other sports.

“It’s a mixture of sports,” Harter said. “Like tennis combined with handball and ping-pong, which makes it really fun.”

Playing over the summer with friends such as Zemberi, Harter has cultivated a passion for pickleball. Though it may be an easy-going, getaway activity for most, Harter said she definitely considers carving out more time for pickleball in the future. 

“At first I thought it was just fun and relaxing,” Harter said. “Now, I could maybe see myself joining a club in college.”

As simple as this sport seems, there is so much more to enjoy about pickleball than just hitting the ball. Whether it be playing for fun or competitively, pickleball is a sport for all.

“[Pickleball] – always fun, always social, always meeting new people,” Toomb said. “I don’t think there’s any other sport in the world that does that.”

Check out this video of Zemberi and Harter playing pickleball!

Photo by Carly Prows