Ellen Ciurczak, Hattiesburg American Published 4:30 a.m. CT Feb. 20, 2020 | Updated 11:50 a.m. CT Feb. 20, 2020
Marlana Mardis Mims has been playing pickleball for two or three years, and she likes to play at least five times a week.
The problem is — finding a place to play.
“We regularly have 30 or so (players) at Thames Elementary School gym where they have painted pickleball lines on a basketball court,” she said. “But that’s only open two times a week — Tuesday night and Sunday afternoon.”
Mims, 42, a Regions Bank employee, is leader of a pickleball Facebook group with about 200 members from around the region. She also leads the Hattiesburg Pickleball Club with about 100 members.
She said pickleball players have gotten used to standing around waiting for a time to play.
“Where you see a few of us — you see a bunch of us,” she said.
Buy PhotoPickleball fans play a game at the Family Y in Hattiesburg. (Photo: Ben Sutton/Hattiesburg American)
Pickleball players increasing fast
According to the USA Pickleball Association, the game can be played indoors or out and combines many elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong.
It’s played on a badminton-sized court with a slightly modified tennis net.
Players use a paddle and a plastic ball with holes. Doubles or singles can play.
The association says rules for pickleball are simple, making it a great introductory sport. It can also be challenging, fast-paced, and competitive when people become more experienced at playing.
“This is the fastest-growing sport in the nation,” said Hattiesburg pickleball player Sinclair Lundy, 64. “It’s fun. Any age can play it.”
According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, pickleball participation has increased 9.7% in the last three years. There are more than 3.3 million total participants.
More than 20% of participants are 65 years old or older.
Local tennis scene: Caters to casual, competitive players
The city of Hattiesburg is working to accommodate this growing sport with its “Your Penny at Work” campaign, funded through the 1% hotel/motel and restaurant tax that was passed by Hattiesburg voters in April.
Half of the proceeds of the tax go to renovating Reed Green Coliseum at the University of Southern Mississippi and the other half to city park and recreation projects.
The renovation of the Thames Elementary School gym floor was the first project, including lines painted on the floor for pickleball.
Mims said the Thames facility is good for when the weather is cold or rainy so pickleball players can play indoors.
Most recent Hattiesburg Pickleball project
The most recent project involves pickleball lines painted on an outdoor basketball and tennis court at a new sports court under construction at East Eighth Street behind Ebenezer Baptist Church. That will provide one new pickleball court.
That project has been slowed by rains, which have prevented city workers from installing sports surfaces. Sid Gonsoulin, city construction manager for parks projects, talked about the work in a video on the “Your Penny at Work” website.
“As you can see, you have a dirt platform here that has been recently set up so we can take on the asphalt overlay over the top of this,” he said. “Then we’ll have a full-size basketball court, a full-size tennis court and an overlay for pickleball.”
Mayor Barker’s office said it had worked closely with area pickleball players to do more for the growing sport and will continue to provide more spaces where allowable.
The city launched the pickleball league with the Parks and Recreation department in 2018 and Barker said he remains committed to the growth of pickleball spaces.
Retiree Bill Pace, 78, who likes staying active through the sport, sees the need for more spaces to play.
“From an outdoor standpoint, that (new court) is probably not even close to enough,” said Pace. “(Pickleball) is a growing sport in this area. It attracts senior citizens to get out and exercise, (but) any addition anywhere is an advantage.”
Pace claims he and three other older gentlemen are the ones who brought the pickleball craze to Hattiesburg about three years ago. Their goal was to attract more interest to the game. It seems they did — so much so that the city eventually took notice.
The “Your Penny at Work” website only reveals the revenues the city gets from its half of the 1% tax. It does not say how much each project costs.
Hattiesburg pickleball players downplay available courts
There are other pickleball courts in town, but Mims said each has its disadvantages.
The Hattiesburg Family YMCA has three indoor courts available, but only for a limited time Monday-Friday. Mims estimates it services 15-20 people a day.
Temple Baptist Church’s gym has two courts for limited hours, serving 15-20 people during that time.
Thames Elementary’s two courts serve 30-plus people on Tuesday and 20-25 on Sunday.
Kamper Park has three outdoor tennis courts marked off for pickleball that are open all the time, but Mims said lighting is bad for night play and when the weather is nasty, the courts can’t be used.
Merit Health Wesley Wellness Center has a basketball gym which pickleball players can reserve if no basketball teams are playing.
The University of Southern Mississippi Payne Center has nine courts, but players must be accompanied by a Southern Miss student or staff member.
The Lamar County Sports Master Plan also calls for eight tennis courts that would be striped for Pickleball. These courts are still in the future as much organizationally needs to be done on the complex before ground can be broken.
‘It’s hard not to like pickleball’
“When I started playing pickleball, we had 35 or 40 people,” Mims said. “Now we have more than 100. It’s going to grow more rapidly the more people who find out about it. It’s hard not to like pickleball.”
Mims said her group is willing to raise money for new pickleball courts in the city that could either be combined with city funds or used on their own.
And she doesn’t want to sound ungrateful for the new pickleball court on East Eighth Street.
“We appreciate the lines and the court at the new location, but it would be a small group that would use it because only four people (for doubles who) can use the court at one time,” she said. “(Pickleball) is growing regardless of whether we have dedicated courts or not, but we need more courts.”
This story has been updated to clarify that Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker said he is working with area pickleball players to provide more courts where allowable.
Where can I play Hattiesburg pickleball?
- Thames Elementary School gym: 6:30-9:30 p.m.Tuesday; 1-4 p.m. Sunday, 2 courts
- Hattiesburg Family Y: 8:30-11:30 a.m., Monday-Friday, 3 courts
- Temple Baptist gym: 1-3 p.m., Monday and Friday, 2 courts
- Kamper Park: outdoor, open all the time, 3 courts
- Merit Health Wesley: Reserve when gym is open and basketball teams aren’t playing, 2 courts
- University of Southern Mississippi Payne Center: Must be with Southern Miss student or staff member when Payne Center is open, 9 courts
Contact Ellen Ciurczak at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @educellen on Twitter.