By Kaylee Cook
The Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department will host beginner pickleball classes at Mark Watson Park, in Sylva from 10-11:30 a.m. every Wednesday in October.
Pickleball is a sport combining aspects of tennis, badminton and ping pong. It can be played either inside or outside and is typically played in doubles but can be played in singles. The court for pickleball is badminton-sized, which is only 44 feet long compared to a 78-foot long tennis court, and uses a modified tennis net, which is shorter than a badminton net.
According to USA Pickleball, the sport was invented in 1965 in Washington State by three dads whose kids had grown bored of normal summertime activities. The game uses solid paddles that are reminiscent of ping pong paddles but are bigger, and plastic wiffle balls.
Originally, pickleball paddles were made of wood, but as the game has grown in popularity, the paddles have evolved and are now primarily made of lightweight materials such as aluminum and graphite. The official wiffle balls come in all sorts of colors, but must be a single color to meet International Federation of Pickleball specifications.
The ever-growing popularity of the game has made its way to Sylva, with more and more people finding the game to be extremely enjoyable and competitive while also being much easier on the joints than tennis as it requires less running.
“It’s not as strenuous on your joints,” Dora Caldwell of the Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department said. “It’s not as much running as tennis but it’s still very competitive. It’s just something different.”
There are quite a few groups in Sylva who have taken up the sport, some at more advanced levels, but also some that are just starting out.
“We have several groups and it’s beginning to grow over the past three or four years,” Caldwell said. “We’ve got some that have started at a more advanced level, and that’s why we’re trying to get the new players to come out and learn and they can continue to play.”
The basics of the sport are easy to learn and the equipment is fairly affordable. Pickleball paddles can range from $20 to about $500 and the balls range from about $5 to $100 but are often sold in packs. A pack of three can be purchased at Walmart for about $6 or a set with two paddles and two balls can be purchased from Walmart for about $20.
“The basics are easy to learn,” Caldwell said. “Some of the scoring, terminology and techniques take a few times to get used to, but usually within three or four times someone comes, they’ve got the basics down and they’re able to go out on their own and play.”
According to USA Pickleball, the average age for all players is 38 years old, but the average age of core players, people who play eight times or more a year, is 47.5 years of age. There is no age restriction on who can play or participate in the classes hosted by the Parks and Recreation Department.
“The majority of players locally are over 50, but there are more and more younger people starting to play in the community,” Caldwell said.
The Parks and Recreation Department classes are free and open to anyone who wishes to participate. Pre-registration for the classes is preferred and can be done at www.rec.jacksonnc.org. Equipment will be provided. For questions or more information, contact Caldwell at 293-3053, ext. 5.
Kaylee Cook is a Sylva Herald intern.