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Pickleball continues to gain popularity in Stanly

It has gotten a foothold on the sports enthusiasts in Stanly and across the nation, appealing to a wide range of players in both age and ability.

In Stanly alone, games are played at the Stanly Family YMCA, the E.E. Waddell Center and Niven Center along with countless games in various church gymnasiums and fellowship halls.

Pickleball is a sport which combines the fast rapid nature of ping pong with the athleticism of tennis and uses an area roughly the size of a badminton court.

The origin of the sport dates back to 1965 when the sport was created in Bainbridge Island, Washington, at the home of a former state representative, Joel Pritchard.

Some sources differ as to how it became named pickleball, referring to a family dog or to pickle boats, but either way, the sport has caught on.

Using badminton court dimensions, players use wooden or graphite paddles to volley a hard wiffle ball back and forth over a 36-inch high net sitting on the ground. Players can only score points when serving, and generally in most leagues, players earn points individually while playing in doubles matches.

According to a study published this year by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, roughly 3.1 million people in the United States alone play pickleball.

Of that number, 75 percent of those playing the game are 55 years of age and older, and 42.7 percent are 65 years old and above.

John Smith, one of the local organizers of pickleball leagues at the YMCA and Waddell Center said one of the reasons so many people play pickleball is because “it’s low impact” in terms of the physical demands on the body to play.

“A lot of tennis players have switched to it because of tennis elbow or bad knees,” Smith said.

“It’s way less stressful than playing tennis.”

Anyone who plays ping pong, badminton, even racquetball, Smith said, can easily pick up the basics of the sport.

“Probably more than 50 percent of the people that play just do it for fun and moderate exercise,” Smith said.

“If you play the court smartly, you can go up to the kitchen line (the front line) and not run around.”

The doubles matches in the various local leagues players have random partners in the matches, which Smith said “makes it tough because you only play with that person one game a night.”

Players move up and down through various divisions in a ladder ranking system depending on the outcomes of their matches using differentials of points earned minus points allowed to determine which players move up, remain in the same division or move down the ladder format.

“Because even though you go to a certain division, you may bottom out. You actually will be playing the best pickleball you have ever played because you’re playing against people that have the same amount of talent you have,” Smith said.

Most players will start out playing in the beginning skill levels, Smith said. Local leagues usually run around eight weeks, with small breaks in between, but pickup games at the various facilities happen nearly ever day.

Like tennis, the game is played differently on different surfaces, from the wooden courts at the YMCA to the rubber basketball court at the Waddell along with various indoor and outdoor cement or asphalt courts.

Those interested in playing at the upcoming late summer league at the Waddell Center on Thursday nights can call 704-984-9564 to register.

Sports Editor Charles Curcio can be reached at charles.curcio@stanly newspress.com, 704-983-1361 or via Twitter (@charles_curcio).

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio was the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press from 1999-2001 and has currently served in the same capacity since 2008. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also been honored twice by the North Carolina Press Association.

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