Do you remember the first time you heard the word “pickleball?” By now, most people know the funny word is a sport that has taken the world by storm. April is National Pickleball Month, and there is no doubt local players will be celebrating.
Pickleball combines components of tennis, badminton and table tennis and can be played indoors or outdoors on a badminton-size court with a modified tennis net. Players use a paddle and plastic ball with holes, and they can play as doubles or singles. The game is perfect for all ages and skill levels.
Although the sport has gained major momentum in the last few years, its origins date back to 1965, when U.S. Rep. Joel Pritchard from Washington and businessman Bill Bell sought to cure their families’ boredom, according to USA Pickleball’s website. Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island had an old badminton court but no equipment. The two families got creative and played with table tennis paddles and a perforated plastic ball. Pritchard and Bell introduced the new game to a neighbor, Barney McCallum, and the three men developed family-friendly rules that closely resembled badminton. It’s been said Pritchard’s wife, Joan, named the sport in reference to the leftover rowers who raced for fun in local “pickle boat” crew race competitions.
Since 1965, pickleball has experienced many milestones, but 2020 was a pivotal year for growth. During the COVID-19 pandemic, team sports were not advised, and many people swarmed to pickleball as a socially distant way to stay active and be outdoors. By February 2023, USA Pickleball memberships had reached 70,000, after a nearly 30% increase in 2022. This year, the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) named pickleball the fastest-growing sport in America for the third consecutive year, with 8.9 million players — up from 4.8 million in 2022 — in the United States.
The explosion in popularity for pickleball has not missed Cobb County. Daneen England and Wendy Brown are local instructors whose lives have been impacted by pickleball.
For England, an instructor at the Acworth Community Center who has played for five years and taught for four years, the sport changed her life. She said she was an alcoholic, and when she decided to quit drinking, she discovered pickleball, which helped her during this tough time. She lost 35 pounds, sold her Amazon business and dedicated herself to the game that had such a tremendous impact on her life. When the community center opened in 2019, she began coaching there, and she’s been sober since.
England also has witnessed the intergenerational power of pickleball and recalled a recent scene at the community center. “One court had two boys who were about 12 years old, and the other had two women who were maybe in their late 50s,” she said. “After playing separately for a while, the women invited the boys to play, and they had a wonderful time.” The pace of the game makes it a great option for players of all ages.
Pickleball is a social sport that helps people connect and reconnect. Brown, England’s best friend, is an instructor at the Kennesaw Recreation Center at Adams Park. The former tennis player got involved in the sport about seven years ago after seeing people playing on courts near her home. A neighbor invited her to play and eventually introduced her to his friend, England. When they met, they realized they had been neighbors when they were kids, until England’s family moved away. Pickleball not only helped Brown meet her neighbors but also enabled her and England to rekindle their friendship.
As it did for England, pickleball also helped Brown through a very trying time. “Not long after I was introduced to the game, my son-in-law passed away suddenly,” she said. “My daughter had a 2-year-old and was pregnant with her second child.” Brown stepped away from the game for several months to help her daughter, but when she returned, it helped her work through her emotions and feel joy again. And her fellow players showered her with love and support. “The pickleball community is just special,” she said.
Brown recognized the opportunity to share pickleball with her young grandchildren, so she set up a court in her garage for them to play together. “I just know this is something we can grow together with,” she said. “If they think about me, they think about pickleball.”
- Acworth Community Center
6 basketball/pickleball courts
Free open play Mondays-Fridays, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Lessons Wednesdays and Thursdays
- Recreation Center at Adams Park
9 pickleball courts
Open gym Mondays-Saturdays, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. (Wednesdays until 9 p.m.)
$10 for city of Kennesaw residents, $20 for nonresidents
– Nicole Smith is a writer, book influencer, dog mom and plant enthusiast living in Kennesaw. Connect with her on Instagram at booked4joy.