What is Pickleball?
The question has been asked so often that YMCA Executive Director Elisabeth Cassiday finds some humor in it.
“Pickleball?” Cassiday said. “It’s honestly become the punchline to a running joke. It’s its own beast.”
According to Cassiday, the tennis-like game started when a man decided to invent a racket sport to play in his driveway. His dog, Pickle, would fetch the ball.
Years later, the up-and-coming racket sport captured the attention of quite a few people passing through the Y. It uses a smaller court, smaller racket, perforated ball, and some of the friendliest players in the gymnasium.
“They’re a really welcoming community, and I think that’s why it’s gained popularity, too,” Cassiday said. “Because, the ones playing it are always really inviting of others playing, too. So, if you’re walking by in the hall and you throw in their ball for them, they’ll be like, ‘hey, do you want to join?’ So, I think they’ve gotten a lot of folks to try it out, whereas other sports can be, ‘do you have a background in it?’ Even our noon ball can feel a little bit intimidating, coming in to play basketball.”
According to Tongue River Valley Community Center Executive Director Erin Kilbride, the sport first became popular in warmer states, but Sheridan was soon to follow.
“The snowbirds—the retirement community that goes south for the winter—kind of come back and bring it back, and they play year round,” Kilbride said. “I know that Sheridan has a huge following. I think the Y people are playing every day all day.”
According to Cassiday, the sport was popular in Sheridan when she came to the YMCA 10 years ago, and it just keeps growing.
“We’re finding that not only seniors love pickleball, but they teach it as part of a PE program here, so youth like it,” Cassiday said. “We’ve had pickleball sessions with the kids that were on winter break. There must be an element of it that’s addictive to all.”
Cassiday confirmed Kilbride’s suspicions. Pickleball is a daily activity at the Sheridan Y.
“There are other YMCAs that have tried to bring in pickleball and haven’t been successful yet, and I think it’s crazy because we could just have pickleball all day long,” Cassiday said.
If they could play more, they would.
“If we gave them more time, they would love it,” Cassiday said. “Sometimes we have to stop and be like, ‘I’m sorry, but our preschool does need a gym.’”
Even in the Tongue River Valley, which has less people than Sheridan, pickleball has enough of a following to warrant two nights dedicated to the sport. Thursday nights are for beginners, and Tuesday nights are for the activity’s racket-wielding veterans. Kilbride, a pickleball player herself, said that there have been pickleball players in the community center ever since its opening day in 2010.
“When we got our facility in 2010, it was a big deal already in Sheridan, and so once I got my gym and redid my court in 2010, I put pickleball courts on, and people were here playing,” Kilbride said.
Although it doesn’t have as many players in Sheridan as basketball or baseball, those who do play are passionate about it, and, for many, it plays an important role in their life.
“They’re incredibly kind and welcoming, but they’re serious,” Cassiday said. “Pickleball is their thing. And you can tell that a lot of active older adults especially have bounced into this really great activity.”