What it was was pickleball
People gathered on a court in Mount Airy’s Riverside Park appeared to be preparing to play tennis while enjoying a hot April day.
They certainly looked the part, wearing shorts, t-shirts and sneakers with visors to shield their eyes from the midday sun as they tried to hit a familiar-looking yellow ball.
Wait! They weren’t tennis rackets out of their carrying cases at all, but something that looked more like oversized ping pong mallets.
And while the activity was similar to tennis – including volleying the ball back and forth over a net – it was not the game they were playing on the court.
What it was was pickleball.
Yes, pickleball, which made a casual observer even more confused because there was certainly no dill, sour or candy and no bread and butter pickles anywhere on the premises – not even a pickle.
Similar to Andy Griffith’s observations in his monologue, “What It Was, Was Football,” about a naive man who accidentally stumbles upon a gridiron where a match is taking place, the curious viewer at Riverside Park witnessed a growing phenomenon .
It’s all part of what Mount Airy parks and recreation manager Peter Raymer described as an “explosion of pickleball” locally during a recent presentation to city council, which he says is the sport at the fastest growing in America.
Pickleball combines elements of badminton, ping pong and tennis, depending on the presentation, in which two or four players use the solid paddles to hit a “pickleball” – much like a wiffle ball – onto the net.
A distinct difference between tennis and pickleball involves a bounded area existing in front of the net on both sides where players are not allowed to be during a match – so there is no load on the net to slam the ball into. middle of an opponent, as happens with tennis.
This non-stolen area is commonly referred to as the “kitchen”, but again, an area that unfortunately doesn’t contain pickles, not even the sliced type for a burger.
Research revealed that the sport’s name, by the way, came from one of the men who created the game on the West Coast in 1965, whose family dog was named Pickles.
Luckily at Riverside Park that day, the absence of tasty pickles also came with the absence of dogs present to trip players.
The city’s director of parks and recreation said pickleball has been embraced by the older population because it’s a low-impact activity and likely because of a compressed court that involves less movement than tennis or badminton.
According to Raymer, the big “dill” of pickleball (his words) is that it’s a simple game that’s easy to learn and promotes fun and social interaction while being a great form of exercise.
“And it’s an inexpensive sport that people can play,” Mayor Ron Niland said, not requiring expensive equipment.
Not only is pickleball enjoyed locally at Riverside Park, but three indoor courts with portable nets have been installed in the Reeves Community Center gymnasium to accommodate a growing legion of enthusiasts.
To better meet demand in the face of limited playing areas, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners voted in March to initiate a pickleball expansion project at an estimated cost of $200,750.
This was done at the request of Commissioner Jon Cawley, an avid pickleball player, as are other city officials.
“It’s just something that has to happen,” Cawley said as he introduced a motion to approve the project. “I think it’s really important.”
The Director of Parks and Recreation called the development “huge for our community.”
Expansion plans include converting a basketball court adjacent to the existing pickleball space at Riverside Park into three additional courts for the new sport. The three already there were provided four years ago through a Disney Play Spaces grant at Mount Airy and are positioned near the basketball court in an area between a playground and a skate park.
Hoops fans need not worry about the transition, as a new basketball court/multipurpose court will be built in a field between a park picnic shelter and a convenience store at the corner of Riverside Drive and East Pine Street.
Planned expenditures include resurfacing, fencing and equipment such as nets and goals for the new basketball area.
Money from the city’s $3.2 million share of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal funding to help communities recover from COVID has been earmarked for the expansion.
However, Deputy City Manager Darren Lewis, a former director of recreation, hopes leftover funds from a state grant awarded as part of an upcoming nearby greenway extension can be used for the project. of pickleball.
Young people involved
While older people are said to be the biggest age group fascinated by pickleball, it’s increasingly being embraced by what Raymer described as a “youth invasion”.
That was evident at Riverside Park last week when Mount Airy’s Emily Bradley took to the courts.
“I just started playing,” the young mum-of-four said, adding that she got involved at the request of a family member.
Bradley, who played tennis in high school, said pickleball is easier than the traditional sport.
Her children also love to play pickleball, which makes for an enjoyable activity for the whole family.
“I didn’t realize it was such a big deal for older people, going out in the morning,” Bradley said of the participation of older people, some of whom are over 80.
The existing space is also heavily used later in the day, she said, arguing that an optimal time to play had to be chosen. “If we come after school, we have to wait for a court.”
Bradley and his playing partner that day, sister-in-law Sarah Bradley, are thrilled with Mount Airy officials’ decision to expand the pickleball facility.
“They need it,” Sarah said.
Tom Joyce can be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.