Social nature of pickleball is keeping it popular

Pictured is UD alum and professional Pickleball player Jade Kawamoto. Photo courtesy of Jade’s Carvana PPA Tour Page.

Andrew Wagner and Lucas Johnson | Contributing Writers

Pickleball was created by three Washington dads in the summer of 1965 and has quickly emerged as the fastest growing sport in North America. Combining aspects of tennis, badminton and ping pong, pickleball began as a way to provide entertainment for the entire family. The simplicity and inclusivity outlined in its rule book laid the groundwork for the game’s growing popularity.

Today, pickleball boasts nearly 9 million participants in the United States alone, with 70,000 members registered under USA Pickleball. Tournaments are held across the country, hosted in state-of-the-art facilities with the best playing surfaces and expert instruction. Players, ranging from beginners to seasoned veterans, compete based on a ranking system reflecting their skills and experiences on the court.

The sport’s rise in popularity can be credited to its inherently social nature. Pickleball offers participants a form of exercise and a vibrant community. In addition, pickleball’s accessibility makes it an attractive choice for individuals of all ages and athletic abilities. It requires minimal equipment – just a court, paddles, good shoes and a wiffle ball.

The rules of pickleball are straightforward, adding to its intrigue. Serving is always underhand, games are played to 11 points – win by two, and the “kitchen” zone imposes specific restrictions on player movements. Despite a few nuances, the fundamentals of pickleball are simple.

University of Dayton communication professor Laura Toomb exemplifies the sport’s appeal. From casual play to competitive tournaments, she has immersed herself in the pickleball scene, even becoming a certified instructor. Through her experiences, she has witnessed the sport’s transformative power by helping to foster improvement and camaraderie among players.

In the Dayton/Kettering area, pickleball has found a welcoming environment. The Dayton Pickleball Association, recognized as a USA Pickleball Official Club, serves as a hub for enthusiasts, providing information on courts, leagues and lessons in the area. Their mission aligns with the sport’s commitment to inclusivity – striving to unite players, fans and local businesses under one umbrella.

Further contributing to pickleball’s prominence is The Picklr, North America’s premier indoor pickleball facility. The Picklr represents the sport’s emerging potential, with plans for expansion across the Midwest, including Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, and the backing of former NFL star Drew Brees.

Even UD has embraced pickleball’s rise, incorporating it into its recreational offerings. The university’s RecPlex hosts intramural games and open sessions, providing students and faculty with opportunities to engage in the rapidly growing pastime.

Celia Merciano, a senior psychology major, shared her excitement for pickleball.

“It (pickleball) is just a game, yeah, but it’s also a bonding experience for me and

my friends whether we were on campus or off, it’s just a great game to play with others,” she said.

RecPlex supervisor Joey Mieczkowski, tasked with incorporating pickleball and overseeing the leagues that have been built around the sport, said the decision to add the sport at UD was easy. 

“Pickleball has been one of the fastest growing sports around the world right now,” he said. “We were asked to make leagues from a lot of participants, so we started it about one year ago and it is one of the biggest leagues we have.”

Mieczkowski also said, “We are very excited about this as a team at the RecPlex. I think this

will impact the community in a great way. It will make a lot more people come play intramurals

and our participation rates will go way up.” 

Pickleball leagues are set to run from March 1 to April 9 and will include coed doubles, open doubles, men’s singles, and women singles. 

While there are available courts around campus similar to the one behind Fitz Hall, the RecPlex will be at the center of action when it comes to pickleball. The basketball courts at the RecPlex are easily transitioned into different kinds of courts, from pickleball to volleyball and more.

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