New pickleball club rallies support for rising sport

Mitchell McMillen | The Chronicle

What once was seen as a way for older people to get their blood flowing, is turning into a sport for all ages. A group of students at Mason High School (MHS) are rallying to further pickleball as a sport for all to play.

According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s (SFIA) Topline Participation Report, pickleball has been America’s fastest-growing sport for the past three years. Some reports have a growth rate as high as 85% in 2023 alone.

Pickleball courts are popping up all over Mason including at Cottell Park, Keehner Park, and Lifetime Fitness.

The Pickleball Club is new to MHS this year and meets after school to play at the Pickle Lodge. The club, advised by Tracy Zimmaro, provides students the opportunity to get immersed in the sport and play with those of the same age.

Zimmaro thought of the idea to form the club because her son, sophomore Carson Zimmaro, and some of his friends were big into pickleball and she realized Mason didn’t have its own Pickleball Club.

“The Pickleball Club was formed [because] my son and his friends all play pickleball, just for fun,” Zimmaro said. “And that’s when we realized Mason doesn’t have a Pickleball Club. So that’s why we started it.”

Although pickleball has been around since 1965, it has been a largely niche sport until a recent rise in popularity. Senior Connor Buckingham has been playing pickleball for 4 years and previously had difficulty finding people his age to play with. 

The club provides MHS students with the means to find new competition with other high schoolers. Buckingham said finding competition closer to his age was exactly the reason why he joined the club.

“I get to play with people my age versus like 56 year olds,” Buckingham said. “There was a way to connect with the school and play pickleball. So I was like, yeah, I’ll go join that and see if I find some people to play with.”

There is no previous experience playing pickleball required to join the club. MHS students at a variety of skill levels play alongside each other. As of February 26, there are 26 students in the pickleball club’s Schoology group page.

Buckingham said he enjoys the differing skill levels and the more experienced players’ willingness to help other players.

“I enjoy how inclusive it is even if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Buckingham said. “I know what I’m doing but there’s some other kids that don’t. There’s more than enough of us willing to help.”

Sophomore Nicholas Pederson joined the club without any prior pickleball experience He said his friends prompted him to join the club and he was looking to try something new.

“A lot of my friends were already in the Pickleball Club,” Pederson said. “I never actually played pickleball before I joined. But I thought it might have been fun to do something with my friends and try something new.”

Pickleball often gets the reputation of being a sport played by middle-aged and retired people. However, many younger people are picking up the game.

The formation of the Pickleball Club is one way that younger generations are getting more immersed in the sport. Pederson said at first he saw pickleball through its stereotype of only being for older people, however, he hopes the club furthers pickleball as being a sport for all.

“I hadn’t really heard of pickleball before I joined,” Pederson said. “I thought it was something that really wasn’t that cool and mostly old people do it. I thought it could be pretty cool if we could turn the sport into something different that everyone can do.”

Buckingham is also a member of the boy’s tennis team at MHS. He said pickleball is a laid-back way to hone his tennis skills while also bettering certain aspects of his tennis game.

“Pickleball is a fun break from tennis,” Buckingham said. “When I go back to tennis it helps hone the skills [because] it also is a fast-paced, you’re at the net kind of game.”

On February 9, Buckingham and a few other members of the Pickleball Club played their first-ever tournament. The doubles tournament consisted of high school student pairs, and was called the “Next Gen Showdown.”

Even though the club is just starting, Buckingham believes its growth will be significant. He sees the club joining more competitions in the future with the possibility for pickleball becoming a fixture in other schools.”

“I’m sure eventually there will be more competitions,” Buckingham said. “You’ll go play schools and eventually it’ll become a high school sport. But I can’t see that happening within the next four years.”