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Imagine a racquet sport that combines all the elements of paddle tennis, ping-pong, and badminton and you would have the latest sports craze known as pickleball. This new sport has caught on with the over fifty crowd and that is probably because it combines many of the elements of other sports fifty somethings enjoyed in years back while growing up. The sport is played on a court with the same dimensions as a doubles badminton court. The net is similar to a tennis net, but is mounted two inches lower. The game is played with a hard paddle and a polymer whiffle ball.

The exciting news is that Jason Smith, the director of Fluvanna County Parks and Recreation, sees the potential in this fun game and is currently working with Margie Davenport of Charlottesville, a pickleball ambassador.
“I helped start a pickleball league at my previous job and noticed we had a potential target market here in Fluvanna,” said Smith. “So, I reached out to Margie Davenport about two months ago to help with facilitating the clinic. It’s just been a matter of working around our schedules to figure out when she could make it.”
The free introductory clinic is slated for Sunday afternoon, Jan. 6, at the Carysbrook Gym from 2-4 p.m.
“She knew of some pickleball players from Fluvanna who commute to Goochland and Charlottseville, who I’ve connected with. I’ve heard from about eight to ten people who are avid players and will be stopping by along with other tennis players who are interested,” Smith said. “She’s been a huge help in getting our information out to anyone who she knows that is interested in participating in the sport along with volunteering to supply the equipment we’ll need to use.”
Smith adds, “We’ll have two courts available for novice and seasoned players to practice on as well as equipment for everyone to use. According to the USA Pickleball Association, “Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in North America. It’s literally the fastest growing sport you’ve never heard of.”
Some may wonder why is it called pickleball? Many whiffle balls do have holes and resemble pickles. It was invented as a backyard pastime in 1965, on Bainbridge Island, Washington at the home of Congressman Joel Pritchard, U.S. House of Representatives for the State of Washington.
Congressman Pritchard and two of his friends returned from golf and found their families bored one Saturday afternoon. They attempted to set up badminton but no one could find the shuttlecock. They improvised with a whiffle ball, lowered the badminton net, and fabricated paddles of plywood from a nearby shed. The strange name of the game reminded Joan Pritchard, of a Pickle Boat crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.
However, the popular story and the one that sticks today is that it was named after the family dog. Joan Pritchard corrected this story in interviews but the story continues to be passed around as gospel. As the story is told, the whiffle ball belonged to the dog. Whenever a wayward shot happened, Pickles would run and try to get the ball and hide it. They named the game for their dog’s ball, “Pickles’ Ball” before it became pickleball. In actuality the Pritchard family didn’t get the cocker spaniel until two years after, therefore the dog was named after the sport.
Today pickleball is an an organized sport represented by national and international governing bodies. Pickleball has spread across the United States and into Canada and is now beginning to spread around the world. The United States Pickleball Association estimates there are more than 100,000 active pickleball players in the U.S. alone. The Pickleball capital of the world is central Florida, which hosts over 108 courts in The Villages–a popular retirement community located near Orlando, Florida.
In Canada, where the game is still relatively new, there are already more than 5,000 players in just four provinces. Meanwhile new organizations like the Singapore Pickleball Association and the All India Pickleball Association are bringing the game to Asia and beyond.
Everyone agrees that although pickleball appears to be very similar to tennis, there are key differences that make pickleball more accessible to a wider range of players, particularly children and seniors. Chief among these differences is the speed of the pickleball ball which typically moves at one-third of the average speed of a tennis ball. Equally important, however, is the size of the court which is just under one-third of the total area of a tennis court. This smaller area combined with the slower moving ball makes pickleball much easier to play than tennis.
It is easy for beginners to learn, but can develop into a quick, fast-paced, competitive game for experienced players.
“It’s fun,” said Smith, hoping it will draw people in Fluvanna. After all, like Florida, central Virginia could become the mid-Atlantic’s pickleball capital and it could start right here in Fluvanna County.
No experience is necessary and all ages and skill levels are welcome and equipment and instruction provided for the two hour free clinic. The Careysbrook Gym is located at 8878 James Madison Highway in Fork Union.
For more information, contact Jason Smith at Fluvanna County Parks and Recreation at 434- 842-3150. More information about the game of pickleball, including videos of people playing, can be found at www.usapa.org.