“If you play pickleball, you don’t need a therapist,” joked Randy Guy on a recent Monday morning at the Pelham Recreation Center. While his comment was made in jest, there is some truth to Guy’s statement. Devotees of the sport cite camaraderie, social interaction, and all-around fun as some of the main aspects that make the game so appealing.
It was through the Pelham Parks and Recreation’s Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning pickleball program that six individuals came together for fun, exercise, and love of the game. After playing regularly for a few months, Beth Blackburn, Randy Guy, Mindy Long, Ronnie McFarling, Linda Metrock, and Cathy Moore competed in the USA Pickleball National Indoor Championship, which was held June 6-13 at the Finley Center in Hoover. Approximately 743 players from 37 states and two international countries competed in the tournament. At the end of the week, the group from Pelham Parks and Recreation accumulated some serious hardware at the amateur open in the following categories:
Bronze Medal - Men’s Doubles 3.0/55+: Randy Guy and Ronnie McFarling
Silver Medal – Senior Men’s Doubles 3.0/65+: Randy Guy and Ronnie McFarling
Silver Medal – Senior Women’s Doubles 3.0/60+: Beth Blackburn and Cathy Moore
Gold Medal (Overall Bracket) – Senior Women’s Doubles 3.0/65+, 70+: Mindy Long and Linda Metrock
Gold Medal – Senior Women’s Doubles 3.0/65+: Mindy Long and Linda Metrock
“The competition was great and it was so much fun meeting people from all over the USA,” said Beth Blackburn and Cathy Moore, winners of the silver medal in the Senior Women’s Doubles 3/0/60+. “We have competed in other tournaments, including the Senior Olympics last year, where we won silver.”
Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America, with over 4.8 million players. By some estimates, the sport is projected to grow to 48 million players by 2030, making the participation level bigger than the game of golf.
According to the USA Pickleball Association, the rules are simple, and the game is easy for beginners to learn. The game can quickly develop into a fast-paced, competitive game for more experienced players.
The game is played both indoors and outdoors with a paddle and plastic ball with holes. Pickleball combines many elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. It can be played as singles and doubles.
With the fast growth of the sport, many cities are prioritizing pickleball courts when planning new facilities and recreation programs. While the individuals we talked with are not residents of Pelham, they said they enjoy playing at Pelham Parks and Recreation Center because of the indoor courts. “If it rains or if it is cold, it’s nice to be able to play regardless,” said Ronnie McFarling. All agreed that the indoor courts are a plus during the hot Alabama summers as well. In addition to the indoor courts, Pelham Parks and Recreation also offers outdoor courts for those who wish to brave the elements.
Most of the group have a tennis background, but they emphasized tennis experience is not a pre-requisite. They cite the ease of the sport for a beginner to learn and the simplicity of the rules. “The court is smaller and the ball is less lively. A beginner can easily start achieving success in a short amount of time,” said McFarling. Mindy Long added, “It’s always easy to get a pickup game. You just show up at a court, and you’ll find people who are willing to play.”
They also said pickleball is an inexpensive sport, which makes it attractive to a wider audience. “Compared to tennis, pickleball is a much more social game that invites interaction and camaraderie. You play with a variety of people. Men and women can compete against each other,” said Guy.
Indoor pickleball is currently offered at the Recreation Center on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday mornings, and on Tuesday evenings. Due to the high demand and limited space, interested persons should sign up for preferred sessions every two months when registration opens. Details are available on the Pelham Parks and Recreation website, or in the quarterly program guide. “The Pelham Rec Center is a fabulous facility to play pickleball, and we have many players. We continue to attract more and more,” said Blackburn and Moore.
This group of medal-winning pickleball players would like to see others enjoy the sport as much as they do. “It is so much fun, and just pure joy,” said Linda Metrock. If you’re looking to get started with the sport, watch for details on an upcoming pickleball clinic scheduled for September 25, 2022, at the Pelham Recreation Center.