The Nashville Ledger

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FLIGHT. 46 | NO. 14 | Friday, April 8, 2022

By Nicki Pendleton Wood

Updated at 3:44 p.m.

It’s everywhere, the sport of the moment, and people can’t get enough of it

Let’s say you hadn’t heard of pickleball a few years ago, and now your parents/kids/half your friends are playing it.

You’re in good company, and it’s not just your imagination: Pickleball, a sport invented in a backyard in 1965, grew 21% in 2021 alone, reports the Sport and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). ).

So if you haven’t met a pickleballer, you probably will soon enough.

The goofy-named sport was invented by friends in Bainbridge Island, Washington. It remained local, then gradually began to spread to the western United States, where it is very popular. It’s hit a tipping point, probably in retirement/snowbird places like Florida and Utah. He recently gained a foothold in the Southeast and seems to be everywhere, even on TV.

With so many new aficionados, the demand for classes, new facilities, and modified courts in Middle Tennessee exceeds supply.

In Nashville, pickleball’s popularity is reflected in annual court bookings at Centennial Sportsplex: 35 total bookings for all of 2018, 149 bookings in 2019.

In 2020, despite the pandemic closing the Sportsplex for months, court bookings quadrupled to 875, then tripled again in 2021, to 2,372. That’s at Centennial Sportsplex alone.

Nashville’s Dee Dee Brickner says she’s been playing pickleball for four years.

— Photo by Michelle Morrow |The Ledger

More recently, places for the “Introduction to Pickleball” lessons at the Sportsplex filled up in a matter of days.

geometry and friends

Pickleball, if you haven’t seen it up close, initially looks like a little tennis. It is played on a 20-by-44-foot badminton-style court with a whistle-shaped ball, square paddle and tennis net. But it’s the details that do.

The smaller space means players are within conversational range and the game travels less distance. There’s also the “kitchen,” a no-volley area that changes the dynamics of the game.

The compact court levels the playing field, literally, for more inclusive ages and abilities in the sport. Example: Tennis enthusiast Marianne Stuart Stoll, 46, says she learned pickleball from her 74-year-old former neighbor.

“I’m done with tennis,” she says. “I love pickleball more than tennis, ever. And I loved tennis.

“Pickleball is more fun and social. I appreciate people. It’s easier to get good than tennis.

Avid pickleball high school student Simon Fox hooked up at the Green Hills YMCA with a band that had been playing for eight years. Most of them were “older,” but pickleball is a great equalizer. By the end of the summer, Fox was feeling like a pickleball veteran, and he and his pickleball buddies were having lunch.

The economics of pickleball

The novelty and sociability helped pickleball spread quickly after its beginnings long ago on the West Coast. There are pickleball industry groups, pickleball training camps, pickleball “mystery box” subscriptions, and pickleball subReddits. A passionate pickleball nerd has developed a program to analyze pickleball matches.

Stephen Colbert hosts “Pickled,” a two-hour primetime special slated for CBS and Paramount+ later this year, where “hip sports will get its big shot with an all-star team tournament that fight him for charity…”

Nashville-area pickleballers have plenty of places to play, though most are less-than-ideal replenished tennis courts. Metro Parks offers public audience hours at Hartman Park, Centennial Sportsplex, Hermitage, McCabe and Old Hickory Community Center.

Other Nashville pickleball facilities include Green Hills and downtown YMCA venues, Fifty Forward in Donelson, Lipscomb University and the Gordon Jewish Community Center, where father and son coaches Bo and Corey Sacks offer Classes.

Seonaid Lough from Brentwood says she has been playing for about eight months and tries to play at least two hours a day.

— Photo by Michelle Morrow |The Ledger

“In the early days” of pickleball in Nashville “there was no instruction,” says Bo Sacks. “We were teaching each other – it was very cooperative in that social aspect.”

Because the game moves quickly, players can squeeze through a few games in 45 minutes. And it’s not too physically demanding. Marion Stuart Stoll says she played for six hours one day a few weeks ago. “I’m losing track of time!”

Business and sports

Perhaps pickleball’s best marketing tool is its name. It’s fun to say and announces that the sport is light, throwing off any gravity associated with tennis and racquetball. The name definitely makes people want to know more.

Bo Sacks says his eyes were opened to the business side of pickleball after playing for a while to relax. Sacks says he and his son have “fully pivoted to pickleball lessons.” They have a website, pickleballco.com, where he offers individual and group clinics, as well as pickleball for team building.

Super pickleball advocate Stephanie Lane also teaches pickleball, five hours a day on select days.

Franklin’s Justin Webb says he’s been playing with co-workers for about a month.

— Photo by Michelle Morrow |The Ledger

As hordes of new players jump into the game, there’s also the economic impact of building or renovating new courts, along with all that locally purchased racquets, balls, nets and other equipment.

The pickleball player on vacation or traveling is lucky that pickleball has come of age in the online age and is a natural with social media. Players can find online play at PickleBallConnection.org and Pickleballonline

Courts! No more courts!

Although her recent rise to prominence makes pickleball new, instructor Lane says she learned pickleball when she was training to become a physical education teacher at David Lipscomb College in the late 1980s. she can barely keep up with the demand for her pickleball lessons.

Lane is known locally as the pickleball pointer in the area. Pickleball is his thing, and everyone knows it. She plays often and hasn’t missed a national championship in Indian Wells, Calif., since 2012. People who know her say Lane “wins pickleball tournaments.”

But his travels have shown him that Nashville’s pickleball scene lags far behind the rest of the country.

“Pickleball is king in the west. St. George, Utah has pickleball in the wazoo. While we [Nashville] do not have dedicated courts.

Seonaid Lough, left, and Bob Neely congratulate opponents Justin Webb and Jenna Volk at the end of their match.

— Photo by Michelle Morrow |The Ledger

Getting Metro to invest in dedicated pickleball courts has been Lane’s goal for years. She finds Metro’s replenished tennis courts inadequate, with a few exceptions. “Two somewhat decent courts are temporary grounded nets at the East Nashville YMCA. These are just two fields.

Resurfacing tennis courts technically works. But that’s not ideal, because when tennis courts are modified, the result is “quick-start” courts, with too little back clearance, Lane says.

At one point, there were discussions around Metro Parks and Rec about repurposing six Sportsplex tennis courts for pickleball. But “it’s only six pitches,” Lane says. “SIX. Even if you had 24 courts, there would be a standing room line for them.

“People ask ‘where can we play?’ she says. “You can find courts in any other city or state.”

In Metro, there are even rumors of guerrilla pickleball players creating impromptu pitches with duct tape and portable nets, says Justin Miller of the Sportsplex, although he hasn’t seen them himself.

Pickleball Hype Man

After a decade of trying to regulate pickleball courts in subway parks, Lane says, “That’s not going to happen.”

So Lane works with Billy McGehee, the promoter who brought Nashville Cats Arena Football to town, to push for more pitches.

McGehee’s website Billy McGehee’s Wild World of Pickleball (https://bmwopb.com) gives some idea of ​​his promotional fervor. McGehee is hosting an extravagant pickleball social event in Nashville this summer “to show the size and scope of pickleball interest in the area.”

“I’m confident we’ll see permanent pickleball courts being built in Nashville by Metro Parks over the next few months.”

To McGehee’s credit, he convinced the town of Ft Myers, Florida to convert the tennis courts to a six-court racquet club in 2019. He has the utmost confidence in pickleball and its future, saying that ” it will become THE racket sport”.

His goal is to make Nashville one of the top pickleball destinations in the world, which will “fill a lot of hotel rooms and sell a lot of real estate.”

At home in spacious suburbs

Williamson and Sumner counties are at least as enthusiastic about pickleball as Nashville. And with newer facilities and plenty of open courts, Middle Tennessee suburbs are taking the lead in pickleball facilities.

Ironically, Music City Pickleball plays in Williamson County at the TOA Sports Performance Center off Mallory Station Road. There are also dedicated facilities at Williamson County Rec Center in Fairview, Franklin Recreation Complex, Longview Recreation Center, Nolensville Recreation Complex, and Academy Park.

This distribution is in line with the national wave of pickleball, which seems to have settled in the city while establishing itself firmly in the suburbs.

After conquering the suburbs and cyberspace, pickleball is also making its way onto the airwaves: the National Pickleball Championships aired this year on Fox Sports 2. It’s a small channel, described by Bo Sacks as “like The Ocho from the movie ‘Dodgeball’.”

There are even occasional talks of a plan to add pickleball to the Olympics.

For now, these are just hopeful chatter. But pickleball is a sport that thinks positive, and true believers will no doubt keep the flame alive.

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