The Thrill of the Dill: The unexpected rise of Pickleball

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By Cynthia Maquet

For the third year in a row, Pickleball has earned the title of the fastest-growing sport in the nation. Is the pickleball phenomenon all that it’s cracked up to be? The rapid growth and increase in popularity seems to point in the direction of “YES.” But let’s get to know a little more about pickle so you can decide for yourself if you want to be part of the craze.

The History of Pickleball
In 1965, three fathers, Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum were looking for an activity to keep their bored children occupied during summer break and decided to combine elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis to form a fun and easy game for all ages. What started as a simple game in their backyard would turn into a sport that is still spreading across the nation 60 years later.

Unlike tennis or badminton, players use a solid paddle made of graphite, carbon fiber, fiberglass, or wood. The ball used is similar to a wiffle ball with holes through it.

The Name “Pickleball”
There are two versions of the origins of the pickleball name involving pickle boats and a family dog. Pickle boats used in crew races were for the oarsmen, who were not quite good enough for the main team. The families found this similar to how their newly created game was a hodgepodge of different elements from other racquet sports. Alternatively, it is said that the game was named after the Pritchard family dog Pickles. Either way, the sport is a household name today.

The Rise of Pickleball
From backyards to retirement communities to school playgrounds, the popularity of Pickleball grew in the 1990s. But it was the pandemic of 2020 when Pickleball really took off. The socially- distanced and outdoor aspect made it a sport for all ages and abilities to connect during a time when people needed it most.

The pickleball boom is real. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), more than 13.6 million people played Pickleball across the US in 2023. Pickleball participation rates are now right up there with traditional sports such as golf and basketball. Celebrities like LeBron James and Reese Witherspoon are bringing attention to the pickleball craze by investing in professional pickleball teams or actually being seen playing pickle themselves!

Net Game is a one-stop shop for pickle enthusiasts now open in Westmont.

The Dill with Delight
There are many positive factors that contribute to why pickle is such a delight to play. First off, it is easy to learn and can be tailored to all skill levels. The pickleball community gives off the vibe that all are welcome, which makes it social and fun. Once people try, the addiction is real. There is always room for growth and to take it up a notch to the competitive levels. Pickleball is not only great exercise but also great for mental health. Plus, the inexpensive side of it makes it a huge draw.

The Pickle of Pickleball
While the hype is real, some people tend to think there is also a sour side of pickle. Some people think it is “cult-like” taking over their communities. Pickleball is causing disputes over real estate and public places where courts are taking over. Tennis and basketball courts are being converted for pickleball use, and the noise level has not been appreciated by homes nearby. As Pickleball’s popularity has skyrocketed, so has the number of serious game-related injuries among players.

Getting Pickled Right Here in the Burbs
Local parks, swim clubs, and rec centers are just a few of the hundreds of places popping up to play in DuPage County. The newest facility, Net Game, has recently opened up in Westmont. Net Game is a one-stop shop for pickle enthusiasts, which has it all. It combines a vibrant atmosphere, a stocked bar, and delicious food for on-the-go.

“Net Game is the largest dedicated indoor pickleball facility in DuPage county boasting nine full-size regulation courts,” according to co-founders Jill Livingston and Dorothy Foster. Net Game has its own pro, leagues, drills, party rooms and open play. An added bonus – you don’t have to worry about being kicked off the court!

Still in a Pickle?
There is no talk of the pickle craze fading anytime soon. Rumor has it pickle might even be a sport in the 2032 Summer Olympics – definitely giving you some time to acquaint yourself with the game.

 

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