Watch out Wilson, NC! Pickleball is here

Wilson Times sports editor Paul Durham tries his hand at pickleball Monday during the opening of the Greater Wilson Rotary Park on Branch Street.
Wilson Times sports editor Paul Durham tries his hand at pickleball Monday during the opening of the Greater Wilson Rotary Park on Branch Street.
Brie Handgraaf | Times
By Paul Durham | 265-7808 | Twitter: @PDsports

Imagine playing on a life-size ping-pong — er, sorry, table tennis — table. So instead of dancing around behind the table, you’re actually darting hither and yon to hit shots with the same type of spin and placement.

That’s the best way I can describe pickleball, which I am here to tell you is about to hit Wilson like racquetball did in the 1980s or tennis in the 1970s. Well, maybe, because to paraphrase Sheriff Brody from “Jaws,” “We’re going to need more courts.”

With the grand opening of Greater Wilson Rotary Park, formerly Cavalier Park, on Monday, and its three spanking new pickleball courts, the sport was officially introduced to Wilson. The park, which has been and will continue to be a soccer facility, is now a play where Wilson residents can play pickleball every day, weather permitting, from 8 a.m. to dusk.

Why pickleball?

“We try to stay ahead of the game on stuff that we do,” said City of Wilson Parks and Recreation Department director David Lee. “It’s the fastest growing racquet sport in the United States and we saw it at a conference about three years ago. Our folks started playing it at the conference in the exhibit hall and had a ball and said, ‘We’ve got to get some!’ So we bought a set and put it up at the Rec (Recreation Park Community Center) and they started playing every day at lunch and everybody was loving it. You could tell, by keeping up with the national trends, that it was getting bigger and bigger and that was about a year and a half ago.”

The game was invented in 1965 in Bainbridge Island, Washington, according to the USA Pickleball Association website, by three dads who were trying to come up with a new game for their bored children. There are different accounts of how it got its name but pickleball grew from that simple beginning to a sport that counted 3.1 million players in 2018, per a report by Sports and Fitness Industry Association.

Tom Curran, a USAPA ambassador and Wilson resident, describes it as a combination of table tennis, tennis and badminton. He believes that pickleball will be the next big sport in town.

“I certainly hope so!” said Curran, a National Masters Racquetball Association hall-of-famer and a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission. “The issue David and I talked about a lot is that putting these courts out is great; once it catches on, it’ll be jammed.”

Besides the three new outdoor courts at Rotary Park, pickleball is being played in the gym at Recreation Park Community Center three days a week — on Mondays and Wednesdays from 2:30-4:30 p.m. and Tuesdays from 5:30-7 p.m. For now, it’s a matter of players using common courtesy and stepping aside after a game or two and letting others who have been waiting get a chance to play.

That’s reminiscent of the 1970s when lines to play tennis would encircle the courts at Recreation Park.

While tennis and racquetball require a good degree of athleticism, not to mention skill, pickleball is something that just about anyone can play.

“That’s the beauty of it — as long as you’re mobile you can play!” said Walter Etheridge, who was hitting the ball with Curran at Monday’s grand opening.

Both Curran and Etheridge demanded that I give it a shot — although I suspect that they did so after eyeing my rotund figure to prove that one needn’t be in shape to enjoy pickleball.

My wife and son had already picked up a pair of racquets and balls and informed me that it was the funnest game they’d ever played.

They were right! Of course, I only played a few minutes and was already wheezing but it was just like playing life-size ping-pong (because that’s what I call it!). I even put some donkey-kong spin on a return shot for a winner against Walter! (He got me back on the next point though).

You can play pickleball in just about any attire, as long as you have on a shirt and proper shoes.

A word of caution, however. Apparently some folks think the new courts at Rotary Park are for tennis. They’re not, so if you want to use them, please play pickleball.

Curran believes that the demand will soon outweigh the availability of courts — a possibility of which Lee is aware.

“I thought we had plenty but now I’m not sure we don’t need more, to be honest with you!” Lee said with a smile.


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