By ANGYE MORRISON
A sport that has caught on nationwide has found a home in Statesboro, thanks to the persistence of one of its newer fans.
Kathryn Wade has been in Statesboro for about five years. She and her husband are retired, and often travel in their motor home. On a trip to South Padre Island, Texas, earlier this year, Wade was invited to play. She declined at first.
But as the invitations kept coming, she decided to check it out — from the sidelines. After watching for a couple of weeks, she finally made her way to a beginner’s class.
“I went and I was pretty much hooked from there,” she said, laughing. “Since then, I’ve just been hooked. It was fun, and it was exercise I didn’t have to go to the gym for.”
When the couple returned to the Boro, Wade went looking for someone to play with locally, but her search came up empty.
“I said if I can’t find anyone I guess I’ll have to create it. So I created a Facebook page hoping to get some people. I put up flyers down at the Honey Bowen building,” she said.
Soon, Wade was joined by six other people, and they began playing on dedicated days, so that others who might be interested would know when to come. She says the numbers are slowly growing.
“It is very inclusive and open to all ages and all skill levels. It’s been kind of hit or miss getting the word out,” she adds.
Wade says that pickleball is a combination of tennis, badminton and ping pong. There is a paddle and a ball, and the rules are a combination of all three sports. The court used is smaller than a tennis court, and the net is a couple of inches lower than the one used in tennis.
What is pickleball?
Pickleball is a paddle sport, played with a whiffle ball on a badminton-sized court with a tennis-style net. The sport was created by Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington State, and Bill Bell, a friend and local businessman.
While their families were vacationing together, they found themselves with some time on their hands, and an incomplete set of badminton equipment. So they improvised and played with ping pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball.
Another friend, Barney McCallum, soon visited, and together the three men created rules for the new game. They constructed their first pickleball court in 1967 in a neighbor’s backyard.
The first pickleball tournament was held at the South Center Athletic Club in 1976, and the US. Amateur Pickleball Association was organized in 1984. By 1990, pickleball was being played in all 50 states. Today, the USAPA boasts more than 30,000 members.
Who can play?
Pickleball was created for all family members to play, and is simplified and easy enough that everyone can pick it up.
“I’ve never played any racket sports, so I’m coming from ground zero. So people who have a tennis background or who played ping pong or racketball or badminton, they kind of have an idea of how to hit the ball, how to place the ball,” she said, adding that beginners who don’t have that background may be at a slight disadvantage, but it doesn’t take that long to get up to speed and be able to play.
The current group plays mostly doubles. They are playing at Mill Creek, and although there aren’t dedicated pickleball courts there, lines have been placed at courts 9 and 10, and there is a schedule on the recreation department’s website.
Wade says the group that is currently playing is a very friendly group, and they’re all eager to play as well as share their love of the sport.
“All you have to do is show up and someone will have an extra paddle. I carry four extra paddles and balls. So they really don’t need any equipment if they just want to come out and try it,” she said.
Wade, as the local ambassador for the U.S. Amateur Pickleball Association, recommends that first-timers come out on Tuesday or Thursday evenings. She says it’s a great time to either play or just watch a match to check it out.
Statesboro Bulloch County Parks and Recreation hosts an adult pickleball league for ages 18 and up, for both men and women.
For more information or to view pickleball schedules, go online at www.bullochrec.com/pickleball/.
Registration for a round robin, tournament-style league for spring 2022 opens Nov. 26 and runs through Dec. 31. You can find details, as well as the local pickleball group, on Facebook, and get information on their meetups by searching “Statesboro Pickleball.”