In a Pickle(ball)

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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it. 

However, BYU intramural sports director Phil Kelly said one of the greatest rewards was seeing the explosive growth of one of the trendiest sports in the nation — pickleball.

“We had just seen how fast it was growing in the nation during the pandemic,” Kelly said.

Originally pitched to him in 2014 by a representative for the company, Kelly was skeptical at the idea of pickleball taking off. 

“I said no way,” Kelly said. “I told him we have maybe one or two people in their target age range who would play, but not the students.”

Ironically, the sport ended up being the first team intramural sport conducted by the program in 2021 in the return to play after the pandemic initially tapered off.

“We ran four weekends of these tournaments, and registration filled up within the first hour,” Kelly said. “It was incredible.”

Two years on, a pickleball club is now up and running, with BYU student Spencer Kimball as its president.

“During COVID, they stopped meeting,” Kimball said. “I contacted BYUSA to see what happened, but somewhere in the conversation, they offered me to start it up again.”

Kimball, who had been playing tennis since he was 14, made the transition after his father introduced him to the sport.

He said the third shot is the critical shot in the sport. “The habit for a tennis player is to just drive the ball right at the net,” Kimball said. “If you can drop your third shot into the kitchen, you’re going to get a lot of winners.”

According to Kelly, the growth across all age groups has been amazing to watch.

“They run a free play right outside my office, and I can hear them every day,” he said. “This really has been a huge success — bigger than I ever thought it would be.”

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