Pickleball lands in Port Jefferson village

Pickleball lands in Port Jefferson village

With 4.8 million participants nationwide, pickleball is now the fastest growing sport in the United States, says Stu Upson, CEO of USA Pickleball. File photo from Pixabay

Pickleball, a nationwide recreational phenomenon, has made its way to Port Jefferson village.

On Tuesday, May 10, village residents will be offered the opportunity to learn about pickleball and try it out for themselves. Trustee Stan Loucks said the pickleball village initiative is finally materializing. 

“Pickleball has been on my agenda for about four years,” he said in a phone interview. “We have a clinic planned for May 10 at 6 o’clock that we’re advertising, and registration is through the village recreation department.” 

Loucks described pickleball as a combination of several racket sports in one. Unlike tennis, pickleball is played within a much smaller area, which has a lower impact on the body. “It’s also a sport that the elderly can play,” he said.

Loucks was first introduced to pickleball in Florida, where he said he spends a good portion of his time. There, he noticed a surge in pickleball’s popularity and sought to bring this activity to the village. 

 “The reason I picked pickleball is because if we use the area that we have left over at the country club, those upper [tennis] courts, I can put six pickleball courts there,” the trustee said. “We don’t have room for tennis up there right now and we thought we could put a pickleball complex up there.” He added, “It is a sport that has exploded nationwide. It’s a matter of popularity, expense, room, and it’s an advantage that all ages can play.”

History of pickleball

TBR News Media contacted Stu Upson, CEO of USA Pickleball, for an exclusive interview. He shared the history of the sport dating back nearly six decades.

“Pickleball started in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington [state] — just across from Seattle — by three families who were there for the summer,” Upson said in a phone interview. “The kids were antsy and bored, so they created the game of pickleball on their driveway.”

From there, the sport grew throughout the Pacific Northwest, becoming more popular over time. Upson noted it was particularly popular throughout warmer climates.

“Over time, it really grew in the Sun Belt,” he said. “It’s huge in Florida, California and Arizona.” Addressing the demographics that gravitated to the sport initially, Upson added, “It was a more popular sport among seniors who wanted to remain active and probably had played tennis a lot. Tennis was a little difficult for them to continue to play because it’s harder on the body.”

Within the last five years, Upson observed a boom in the number of picklers throughout the country. “It was growing 20% per year before the pandemic, but when COVID shut the world down, the sport really took off because it was so easy to play.” He added, “Even since the pandemic, the sport has continued to skyrocket and is now the country’s fastest growing sport with now 4.8 million people playing it.”

When asked to explain the rise of pickleball, Upson said it was the sport’s relative simplicity that made the difference.

“It’s easy to play, but it’s also easy to learn,” he said. “You can get out on the court and if you have any basic hand-eye coordination, especially if you have experience playing another racket sport, you can go out on a pickleball court and, within an hour or so, be confident and not embarrass yourself.”

Rules and regulations

While pickleball may look similar to other racket sports, it is governed by its own unique set of rules and scoring procedures. “The scoring is different from tennis,” Upson said. “It’s a much smaller court which is about the same size as a paddle-tennis court,” adding, “In fact, you can fit four pickleball courts in the area of one tennis court.”

Also distinguishing pickleball from its racket sport counterparts is the style in which it is played. Unlike tennis, a pickleball is served underhand. Additionally, the game follows a service-scoring format, meaning points can only be earned while one is serving the pickleball. Games are usually played to 11 points, according to Upson.

The mission of USA Pickleball is to grow the sport,” he said. “As the national governing body, we also sanction tournaments, set the rules of the game, approve all the equipment — the paddles and balls — and we hold tournaments around the country.”

Trustee Stan Loucks has been working for over four years to bring pickleball to the village of Port Jefferson. His vision is now becoming reality. Photo from the Village of Port Jefferson website

Future of the sport

Part of Pickleball USA’s efforts include appealing to the International Olympic Committee for formal recognition at the Olympics. Realistically, pickleball will not be recognized for at least another 12 years.

“We want to help grow the sport internationally and would love for it to be recognized by the IOC and be a part of the Olympic Games at some point, but that’s quite a few years down the road,” Upson said. 

At the local level, there is a growing demand for the sport throughout Port Jeff. “We now have a waiting list,” Loucks said. “We have so many people that have enrolled that we can’t accommodate all of them.” He added, “The demand is there. I think we’re going to have more people that want to play than we’re going to have room for.”

Loucks said programs such as the May 10 clinic are designed to introduce prospective picklers. He emphasized the importance of the upcoming clinic, saying, “I’d like to see the local readers show up at our May 10 pickleball clinic at Texaco Park. It’s free and we will have rackets available. For anyone who shows up, we will try to get them on the court. If we can’t accommodate that many people on the courts, they certainly will see the game being played and receive an awful lot of information about the sport.”

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