The Sport thats Sweeping the Nation
By: Cody Elliott, Staff Writer
It’s no secret that Father Time is undefeated regarding athletes’ playing careers.
Eventually, whether in football, basketball, baseball, soccer, or many other sporting events, an athlete becomes limited in his physical ability to perform in a respective sport at a high level.
That’s where folks involved with pickleball say this sport — the one that’s among the fastest-growing activities in the country and gaining attention from high-profile celebrities from around the world — is unique and provides an avenue for at ahletes of all ages to participate.
“I think what makes pickleball unique is people of any age can find enjoyment and a challenge in playing, which is not always the case with any given sport,” said Kaitlyn Christner, a fitness instructor at Movara East, which is located on the Horizons Edge Sports Campus in Harrisonburg. “One aspect that makes it so
intriguing is the fact that it’s quite similar to two other popular sports: ping-pong and tennis. Usually, people have played one of these sports in the past, making learning how to play pickleball much easier to understand and get the hang of.”
There certainly are similarities between those three starts, notably the paddles that are used.
Pickleball paddles are slightly larger than the ones used in ping-pong or tennis rackets, but each round of the sport starts with an underhand serve from outside the court’s boundary line.
Similar to tennis, you serve the opponent diagonally across the court to your opponent.
Once served, the ball is required to bounce on each side before it can be hit again. Certain areas on the court called a non-volley zone or “kitchen,” are on each side of the net.
Serves can’t fall into those areas either, and players score points when the opponent messes up. Whether it’s hitting the ball out of bounds or some other miscue, that is how a player can earn a point. Of note, only the serving team can score a point in the game.
Traditionally, the team that reaches 11 points first, leading by two or more, wins. The score can fluctuate in some tournaments or higher-stake games, but 11 tends to be the standard.
“I think pickleball is quickly becoming one of the most popular sports in the country,” Christner said about the sport. “Because it is a blend of two other popular activities — ping-pong and tennis — people tend to catch on to the rules of pickleball quickly. The level of competition can vary dramatically, which makes it a challenge for all ages, and it also creates a highly social atmosphere. Those two characteristics alone will reach a wide variety of people.”
And that’s what has happened in the sport, from the national level to our backyard.
Jackson Lohr, the Sports and Fitness Director at Horizons Edge, was introduced to the sport by a professor in college who had a court lined on her driveway at her Pennsylvania home.
Eventually, Lohr’s life path took him to work at a paper mill in Big Island, Virginia, where he was re-introduced to it by a group of employees who played daily.
“When I learned there was a growing interest in pickleball on a national level, I wasn’t surprised, because it’s truly a game anyone can play,” Lohr said. “You can have teenagers and grandparents playing at the same level competitively. So you can see the appeal, especially as an excellent means of exercise for people who struggle to compete in other sports.”
Christner said several facilities in the area are now making the sport easily accessible, but perhaps the most notable is how Horizons Edge is implementing it.
Lohr said the company had a previous employee who was passionate about the sport, holding a few social events with players at the facility. Eventually, a following started to grow.
In the last few months, it has taken off, according to Lohr, and Horizons Edge now has pickleball as part of its primary plan moving forward into the future at the facility.
“First, we are going to begin hosting pickleball tournaments on a regular basis,” Lohr said. “Players can expect at least four tournaments per year. Additionally, we are going to start holding pickleball socials again, which will be home to a beginner lesson, a drink, and space to play for players of all levels. On top of those things, something we are going to begin offering is a beginner lessons every Friday so that more people can learn to enjoy the sport together, and we’re offering these lessons for just five dollars per person, because we really do believe the sport has the potential to bring a lot of exercise, competition, and fun to so many people.”
The fun of the sport is what drew 73-year-old Harrisonburg resident Bob Maphis to it.
He used to play tennis when he was younger but called pickleball “much more competitive.”
After learning how to play from his former tennis partner, who moved to Florida, he said he’s enjoyed playing the sport with players of all ages and sex and expects continued growth.
“It is going to do nothing but grow and grow, especially since older people do not have to drop out, Maphis said. “It is also a very social situation. It’s competitive for people of all kinds.”
At Movara East, the staff has incorporated pickleball into the program’s weekly schedule.
Christner said that since they did that, it has been a massive hit with people participating.
That, in large part, also played a role in Horizons Edge expanding its position, as it aims to add purchasable equipment in the future, certified coaches for lessons, and, as Lohr put it so succinctly, to become “an ambassador for pickleball in our region eventually.”
While Father Time has been undefeated for quite some time in athletics, he may have finally met his match in an increasingly popular sport.
And as pickleball continues to grow, so does the opportunity for exercise for folks of all kinds.
“The sport is growing exponentially,” Maphis said. “Pickleball is the new real deal.”
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