On File

WARNING: Pickleball is Addictive

That cautionary statement comes from a group that meets each week at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Camden, N.J. They play the fast-growing paddle–ball sport, which has also taken off at several other Kroc centers.

Major Gayle Senak, the associate administrator and corps officer at the Kroc center in Dayton, Ohio, said Pickleball is huge there—so much so that outdoor courts will be included in the proposed “Kroc Park” being built across the street.

“Pickleball is the new sport at the Kroc centers,” Senak said. “It has really taken off nationally.

“We have developed a Pickleball program that is really quite amazing. It has brought in a lot of new members. It has changed our whole programming schedule. We’ve done clinics. We’ll have, like, 100 people at a clinic on a weekend.”

What is Pickleball?

Players have described Pickleball as a combination of ping pong, tennis, and badminton. It’s played with a special paddle and a plastic ball similar to a whiffle ball.

Major Terry Wood, the administrator of the Kroc center in Camden, said groups meet there twice a week to play the sport, which started in the 1960s as a backyard game.

“It’s popular with the older population, but it’s popular with younger people as well,” Wood said. “My understanding is that, for individuals who have played tennis but who now have joint issues, Pickleball is less stressful, but still competitive.

“You don’t have to be highly skilled to really enjoy it.”

The Sports & Fitness Industry Association says there is an estimated 2.5 million Pickleball players in the United States. When it comes to places to play, the USA Pickleball Association says there are more than 15,000 indoor and outdoor courts and at least one in every state.

“Pickleball is being introduced to kids and teenagers in physical education classes in middle and high schools,” the USA Pickleball Association says on its website (USAPA.org.)

Senak said planners originally wanted to build outdoor volleyball courts at the new Kroc Park, but the popularity of Pickleball changed those plans.

“They play Pickleball in our gym and on outdoor courts when the weather is nice, but, with this construction, we are creating new outdoor Pickleball courts,” she said.

Senak said some of the seniors who come for Pickleball stay for lunch and for the Kroc Center’s senior program.

“The impact that Pickleball has made is absolutely huge as far as membership and people coming in to our center,” she said. “You wouldn’t think that one single thing could make that big of a difference, but it has. It has brought so many new people in.”

More courts needed

About two years ago, The Salvation Army bought the land for Kroc Park when a school on the property closed, Senak said.
Besides Pickleball, the new park will also include soccer fields, a walking track, and an amphitheater.

“We’re only in the beginning stages at this point,” Senak said. “We decided to go with soccer because we have a lot of other things that are already in this neighborhood. Soccer is definitely the sport that is lacking.

“We also have a big Turkish immigrant group in our neighborhood. That is definitely a big reason to go in that direction, since they play soccer. We’re trying to address unmet needs in the community. We don’t want to duplicate what is already here. We have baseball fields all over the place.”

The amphitheater will be used for concerts, block parties, and other events.

“Right now, if we have something outdoors, we’ll have it in the parking lot here at the Kroc,” she said. “Every month, we try to have some kind of a community event and invite people to the Kroc campus.”

For example, the Kroc Center hosted a block party on the 4th of July and offered a great view of the fireworks. The hope is that Christmas events and Friday night comedy shows will be held in the new facility.

Senak said Salvation Army officials are just starting to meet with architects.

“Hopefully, it will be done by next fall,” she said.

by Robert Mitchell

Pickleball basics

  • A fun sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong.
  • Played indoors or outdoors on a badminton–sized court with a slightly modified tennis net.]
  • Played with a paddle and a plastic ball with holes.
  • Played as doubles or singles.

Source: USA Pickleball Association (USAPA.org)

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