Connecting People, Parks & Nature: Pickleball—The Next Big “Dill”

By Eric Apalategui

Dozens of people sporting visors and athletic gear swarm THPRD’s stadium court, where familiar jokes and “great shot!” compliments punctuate quick volleys. But there isn’t a tennis ball in sight. What’s the big “dill,” you might ask?

It’s pickleball.

The mostly retirees who reserve courts at the Babette Horenstein Tennis Center (BHTC) three times a week are passionate for the game.

“What this sport has done is brought camaraderie of (participants) that I’ve never seen before,” said Mick O’Neill, who organizes the group with his wife, Cindy.

Retirees aren’t the only people playing.

Invented in the 1960s, Pickleball grew 11.3% in 2017, attracting around 2 million players, according to The Sports & Fitness Industry Association. A little like tennis in miniature, or table tennis writ large, it’s played with paddles and whiffle balls on a badminton-sized court. Schoolchildren often play it, as do an increasing number of seniors.

“It’s a little bit easier out of the gate to have success,” said BHTC supervisor Brian Leahy who was on a team that discussed emerging sports while developing THPRD’s Athletic Facilities Functional Plan a few years ago. He sees tennis players transitioning to pickleball as they age. “We want to keep people active. That’s what parks and rec are all about, recreational opportunities for a lifetime.”

THPRD is making more room for the fast-spreading sport. Looking ahead, Leahy thinks the best path for THPRD is to find ways to incorporate more pickleball into existing facilities without disrupting traditional users. To that end, the district just resurfaced and lined tennis courts at Raleigh and Rock Creek Landing parks. That follows additions of pickleball courts at Ridgewood View Park and the Elsie Stuhr Center in the past two years, plus those temporary lines on the stadium court.

The Athletic Center also welcomes the sport, offering both indoor and outdoor drop-in pickleball for years. There have been a handful of tournaments played in the district, with more in the works. By next year, the district plans to expand its offering of introductory pickleball classes to the tennis center.