The sport of pickleball is growing in the country, and Davidson County is no exception. The estimated number of players today is two million, with the number of players in the next three years in the USA increasing to eight million. Pickleball is for everyone, at any skill level, and is played every day of the week, Monday to Sunday, at the Davidson County Parks and Recreation gym. The sport is also played at YMCA and church gym locations across Davidson County as well. The availability of courts draws players from surrounding counties of Forsyth, Guilford, and Rowan. Currently, the triad area ranks as the largest region with pickleball players in North Carolina.
In talking with Bynum Tuttle, a volunteer ambassador of the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) and a Gold and Silver medalist in Men’s Doubles, he declared, “Pickleball is played for fun, health and wellness, and social interaction.”
The prerequisites for becoming an Ambassador are the love of the sport and a willingness to promote the game, which Tuttle demonstrates. Tuttle was the 11th Ambassador selected in North Carolina and played an important role in the growth from a dozen players in the triangle area of North Carolina in 2012 to over 260 active players in 2014.
Now, there 86 Ambassadors in North Carolina, covering three districts that are divided into coastal, piedmont, and mountains. North Carolina is one of five states with the largest number of pickleball players; Tuttle provided proof with a printout of 221 locations in North Carolina where pickleball is played on a regular basis. And, there are full-time Recreational Vehicle owners who are “Ambassadors at-large,” promoting pickleball during their travels.
One might ask--what is pickleball and why is the sport named pickleball? En.Wikipedia.org, the online encyclopedia, explains it is a hybrid sport combining elements of badminton, tennis, and ping-pong. The game is played indoors or outdoors by two, three, or four players using solid paddles made of wood or composite materials and a perforated polymer ball. The sport shares features of other racquet sports: the dimensions and layout of a badminton court, and a net and rules like tennis, but with a few modifications. In pickleball, the net is lower than in tennis; in singles or doubles play; the games are 11 points with the victor(s) winning by two points.
Three friends in Washington State in the mid-1960’s Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum, are credited by USAPA with inventing the game, using handmade equipment. Originally a game for children, the sport now is played by both children and adults. The nationally recognized non-profit USAPA promotes the growth and development of the sport, both nationally and internationally. The association provides official rules, promotes tournaments, sets rankings, and provides promotional materials.
As for the name, there are two explanations, one or both might be accurate: (1) Pickles was the name of the Pritchard’s dog who would chase the ball and keep it; and (2) Pritchard’s wife, Joan, thought, “the combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”
Pickleball players are an embracing community. Several players greeted me as a first-time spectator within minutes after my arrival at the court in the Davidson Parks & Recreation (DCP&R) campus gym located at West Center Street, Lexington prior to my interviewing Tuttle for this sport profile story. Darlene DeFloris, Neal Conner and Joanne Hessey (three-time gold medal winner in Women’s Doubles 65-69) explained the action to me that was taking place on the court. I was told that many athletes can play with previous athletic injuries, arthritis, knee and hip replacements. The game is fascinating to watch, and spectators are encouraged and welcomed to attend.
Pickleball players wear comfortable clothing appropriate for the climate. Court shoes are a must as sneakers or running shoes do not supply the right kind of surface support for the side-to-side action of the feet, and eye protection is highly recommended.
“Ambassador Tuttle’s” goal is, “to plug others into opportunities to play.” One local event he noted that is on the horizon is the upcoming 2nd Annual “Piggleball” Tournament, which coincides with the 34th Annual Barbecue Festival in Lexington. Play begins on Thursday, October 26, 2017 for skill and age rated doubles and mixed doubles. This tournament is sponsored by Tourism, Recreation, and Investment Partnership for Davidson County Foundation (TRIP - a nonprofit corporation), and Davidson County Parks and Recreation. Proceeds from the tournament go to support Parks and Recreation.
TRIP works to improve travel, tourism, and recreation in Davidson County, and the pickleball tournament will bring athletes to Davidson County to compete as well as bring in tourism dollars. According to Tuttle, “Bringing pickleball into the community has an economic impact for the county as well as providing social interaction for the players.”
As Tuttle returned to the court for play at DCP&R, he offered information about the US Open Pickleball Championships with 1,000-plus athletes participating and scheduled for April 21-28, 2018 in Naples, Florida. He cited that final game will be televised to an estimated 50 million people on the CBS television channels network.
Tuttle encourages residents across Davidson County to join the pickleball craze to compete with other athletes who love the sport. DCP&R is just one of multiple locations one can sign up to play.
To learn more about the local “Piggleball” Tournament, email Tuttle at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 336-859-5599. If you would like to register for the tournament, click here.