According to the United States Pickleball Association, “Pickleball is North America’s fastest growing sport.”
So what exactly is it? Players describe it as “ping-pong on steroids.” It’s a game similar to tennis, badminton and ping-pong and created in 1965 by Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum and Bill Bell. The men named it after Pritchard’s family cocker spaniel, Pickles, who loved to chase after and chew the perforated balls.
Young or old, pickleball is a game anyone can play. You don’t have to be an athlete. Families have found that the game strengthens their relationships and communication. Homeschool moms are even incorporating it into their curriculums as a form of exercise and socialization.
In recent years, increased membership and club creation across the U.S. is attributed to a trend where retiring baby boomers get involved in this sport while traveling to places like Arizona, California, and Washington during the winter. When they return to their home states, they start new groups so they can continue playing year-round.
Word is spreading fast about this fun and competitive family sport and it’s not hard to understand why. The game lends itself to gentle wear and tear on the joints and uses large, lightweight paddles with a padded grip. The ball that is used is baseball-sized and perforated, similar to a wiffle ball, yet it bounces, so there is minimum impact when hit. The court is badminton-sized, allowing for shorter movements. Like tennis, the court is divided into zones and the game can be played with either singles or doubles.
There are two pickleball clubs currently active in Oklahoma – one in Broken Arrow and one in Oklahoma City near Edmond. The OKC Pickleball Club meets weekdays 8:30 to 11 a.m. either at Quail Springs Baptist Church or Quail Springs Methodist Church. Times and locations can be found online at https://sites.google.com/site/okcpickleballclub. Membership has increased from five to 35 since it’s start in 2009 by Ron Barnes and Don Stanek and is anticipated to grow as other groups form in Oklahoma in the coming years. Existing groups throughout the U.S. are experiencing similar exponential growth. According to Barnes and Stanek, in Surprise, Arizona alone there are currently more than 2,000 players.
Vicky Noakes, recently appointed local ambassador by the U.S. Pickleball Association, is in charge of promoting pickleball in the Oklahoma City area. She has played for more than four years winning multiple competition medals. “The goals of the OKC Pickleball Club are to open more courts, especially on the south side of Oklahoma City, and establish nighttime play hours,” said Noakes. “We already have 10 people interested in joining. But since they work during the day, they’re unable to participate.” If anyone knows of a place willing to open their facilities for day or night play, they can contact Noakes at 206-3909. A retired teacher and tennis coach, Noakes plans to start pickleball clinics for beginners.
In order to increase membership, several avenues have been explored. Stanek explained that Oklahoma is the only state that doesn’t have a public outdoor pickleball court, even though it is taught in a few middle schools and played at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University. “We have contacted the OKC mayor about this, but have yet to hear back from his office,” said Barnes.
A variety of play options are available, including club practice and competitions on local, national and international levels. Every October, the Oklahoma Senior Olympics include a pickleball tournament. This year, it will be held in Bethany. It rotates every two years between the Oklahoma City area and Tulsa. A recent Oklahoma City tournament earned 10 OKC Pickleball Club members 20 medals in the Yukon Senior Games. Participants included Peggy Cobb, Phil Cox, Laura Grooms, Debra Law, Lindell Mills, Don Noakes, Vicky Noakes, Denzel Oldham and J.B. Smith.
A list of nationally sanctioned tournaments can be found at www.usapa.org. This site is also a great resource on how to play, places to play, international happenings, a monthly newsletter to keep players informed and more.
But just a warning: pickleball can be addictive. Once you start, you may find it hard to stop. It’s a great way to spend time with your kids and get some exercise. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to play a competitive sport. The OKC Pickleball Club members are very welcoming and enthusiastic to teach anyone who wants to learn how to play.