Imagine if tennis and badminton had a love child with ping pong. The result would be pickleball, and yes, it’s as odd as it sounds, but it’s highly addictive, the fastest growing sport in America, and all the rage at the Carroll Wellness Center.
“We have people that are 80 years old almost that play it and enjoy it and they don’t feel limited. And also we have people that are 19 that play it and love it,” said Roger Hawthrone, founder of the pickleball program at CWC. “It’s really competitive, but people of all ages can play it and you can’t get hurt.”
A sport that started in retirement centers and communities in warm-weather areas such as Florida and Arizona, the pickleball craze has swept the nation in recent years. Certain areas in Florida such as Naples have as many as 50 dedicated pickleball courts in public parks.
“When I was in western North Carolina for fires from Asheville to Hayesville to Hiwassee, every little town I went to had pickleball courts instead of tennis courts,” Hawthorne said. “I had been playing at Galax and we approached (CWC Executive Director) Greg (Hampton) because I am five minutes from here and I didn’t want to drive to Galax when maybe we could do it here. They were all for it here and now we have about 36 players in less than a year. We are constantly getting emails from people wanting to play.”
Wednesdays and Sundays are the busiest pickleball days at the Carroll Wellness Center, but the sport is offered four days a week at the Hillsville facility. Action begins at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays, at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays and 1 p.m. on Sundays. And while Hawthorne said many facilities limit pickleball to people 55 and older, CWC didn’t do that because it wants to allow everybody to be involved. He recommends anyone interested in playing to email Mike Hartsell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Anyone in the area, Carroll County or even Grayson, that are interested, have them email that address and we can give them the times and schedules and whatnot,” said Hartsell, who has taken over the program for Hawthorne because of his duties as a firefighter. “It’s really a group within CWC. It is not a CWC thing. It’s a group within a group, but it’s a lot of fun and we are hoping to do more in the summer.”
Hartsell said there are currently three levels of pickleball players at Carroll Wellness Center. There are six to eight people in the upper level, a wide range of middle level players, and then six or eight in the lower, beginner level.
“It’s a good mix. We all play with each other and just have fun,” Hartsell said. “You get more competitive at the upper level, but it’s a lot of fun at all levels.”
Hartsell said he thinks pickleball is more of a combination of tennis and badminton, though many people compare it to ping pong. The court is the same size as an official badminton court and the ball used is similar to a wiffleball.
“Tennis players come in and it takes a little bit of time to get used to your racquet or paddle and the ball because they don’t bounce like a tennis ball. And they are not as fast as a tennis ball or racquetball. A lot of racquetball players play because of the wrist action,” Hawthorne said. “They are used to that where tennis players do that long windup.”
You don’t have to be a member of the Carroll Wellness Center to play pickleball at the facility, but there is a $5 fee each time you play if you are not a member. Currently, CWC uses half of the basketball court for pickleball during designated times. Efforts are being made to hopefully add outdoor pickleball courts at CWC, Hawthorne said.
“To be honest I didn’t know how successful it was going to be, but it has taken off. I can see it even growing more and hopefully in the future we can get something outside,” said CWC Administrative Assistant Michaela Smith. “What I like about it is it is targeting everybody, it is getting the youth and teenagers, not just the elderly. It gets everybody together.”
Hawthorne noted the Chalet High subdivision on the Blue Ridge Parkway has turned its tennis courts into pickleball courts. It’s the direction everyone seems to be going, and one he and Hartsell are excited to bring to Carroll County.
“We are excited about it. There are so many retirement communities all along the parkway, and when you have folks that live in Florida in the winter and come up here in the summer, there is going to be a great demand for this sport because in Florida it is the number one thing. They bring it with them and they want to play,” Hartsell said. “It is so much fun and I really think it will be a great thing for Carroll County and Grayson Count to get people out and moving around. In the summer you can play outdoors or you can find it indoors. It is just great fun and a great way to meet people. And older folks can play it alongside a 17-year-old. There are not many sports where you can do that and enjoy yourself.”
Smith noted that while CWC closes at 4 p.m. on Sundays, it keeps the facility open until 6 exclusively for pickleball. Options for more times are also being considered, Hartsell said. Carroll Wellness Center provides four racquets for beginners to use. Of course, those usually aren’t needed long.
“It is so addictive it doesn’t take but about a week or two and people are ordering their own,” Hartsell said. “Everybody here has their own racquet but one, and they are planning to get their own tomorrow.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN