Hold onto your tennis racquets all you purists and brace yourselves for some shocking news: The fastest-growing sport in Greater Hartford is pickleball.
That’s right, the game with the funny name is taking over the racquet world, as well as indoor tennis facilities and a growing number of outdoor courts. Pickleball is a “paddle sport” that combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis. Two or four players use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a perforated polymer ball, similar to a Wiffle ball, over a net. Picture pickleball as a variation of tennis played in a much smaller area, with players using dinks, slices and hard shots when called upon.
First gaining a hold in Florida, where it developed its unfair and somewhat lasting reputation as a sport for the elderly who couldn’t move around a tennis court well anymore, pickleball now attracts men and women of a much wider range of ages, whether to compete in recreational leagues or highly competitive tournaments.
Get this: Over 500 people took part in the USAPA’s Atlantic Regional tournament at the Hartford Armory last year. And more than 350 enthusiasts are signed up for the Connecticut Masters Games to be played May 16 to 19 at Wesleyan University in Middletown. Pickleball also will be a part of the Nutmeg Games at Wesleyan in June.
Even its current practitioners and biggest supporters had some trouble accepting the sport as legitimate. I mean, that silly name and all, and that nagging stereotype as a sport for the elderly.
“When I first heard about it a few years back, I thought someone was pulling my leg,” says Patrick Fisher, executive director of the Connecticut Sports Management Group, which organizes and conducts the state’s Masters and Nutmeg games. “I had really never heard of the sport when we were asked to hold a tournament. We had 40 participants at the first pickleball Masters Games in 2011, and we have grown to 363 entries this year with a waiting list of between 35 to 40.” Competition on the 16 courts at Wesleyan will be in age groups from 30-39 up to 90-94.