Pickleball gaining popularity in Utah

A pickleball player goes for an overhead smash. Pickleball is becoming a popular sport for many. (Wayne Dollard)
A pickleball player goes for an overhead smash. Pickleball is becoming a popular sport for many. (Wayne Dollard)

If you’ve never heard of pickleball, it’s about time you did.

Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in America and has become a popular recreational activity for many in Utah.

The game is a mix of tennis, badminton and pingpong. It’s played with a paddle and plastic ball on a badminton-sized court with a modified tennis net. Some have jokingly called it “life-sized ping pong.”

The sport was born one summer day in 1965 when Joel Pritchard and two friends, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum, found their kids with nothing to do. In their attempt to provide their kids with some form of entertainment, Bell and McCallum created what is now known as pickleball.

Since its inception, pickleball has gained a wide following among all walks of life. The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) website lists nearly 13,000 courts across the country, with at least one in each state. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s 2015 Participation Report, there are more than 2.46 million pickleball players in the United States.

Many middle and high schools are now introducing pickleball to students, which has greatly helped to increase its popularity among the younger generation. Some colleges and universities have also begun adding pickleball as an elective course.

USAPA Provo ambassador Dirk Cline has been working with Utah Valley University to get pickleball added as a course and hopes BYU will do the same.

“There are a number of colleges and universities around the country that are having great success with pickleball as a class,” Cline said. “The sport is easy to learn and play. Players with no athletic ability can be successful.”

Cline has played a major role in getting pickleball courts installed at the Provo Recreation Center, as well as several outdoor courts scattered throughout Orem.

Cascade Park, Cherry Hill Park and Foothill Park all have public courts with lights for evening play.

People willing to travel farther north will find four brand new courts at Burgess Park in Alpine.

BYU alumnus and Utah Valley resident Chris Thackeray plays at Burgess Park several times a week.

“I have jumped into the sport with both feet over the past two years,” Thackeray said. “I can’t seem to get enough of it.”

Thackeray said most Utah County recreation centers offer introductory pickleball classes and have staff members who are willing to teach people the basics of the game. He said he’s been impressed by the staff at the Pleasant Grove Recreation Center, who have done a great job supporting the increasing interest erupting in Utah County over the past few years.

Pleasant Grove program coordinator Linda Weeks said the Pleasant Grove, Orem and Springville recreation centers each have designated pickleball drop-in times for anyone wanting to learn to play.

The Pleasant Grove Recreation Center will also be running adult and youth beginner clinics on Saturday mornings beginning in July.

Weeks described the clinics as a “wonderful, no-pressure opportunity to learn the basics.”

With pickleball tournaments occurring in Pleasant Grove, Orem, Cedar Hills and Spanish Fork, it’s clear the sport is making significant progress in Utah County alone.

Pickleball enthusiast Jayme Pickett, who got into the sport after her brother began playing, said she enjoys pickleball because it’s a sport for all ages.

“I love that you can play with anyone, young or old,” Pickett said. “Other sports are a lot more wear and tear on the body and require a lot more prep, but pickleball is just fun.”

Equipment can be found at nearly all major sporting good outlets, such as Scheels and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

For more information about pickleball, including other locations to play, visit www.usapa.org.

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