Pickleball

Over the last couple of years, one sport has been spreading rapidly in the United States — pickleball. 

The U.S. Pickleball Association calls the game the fastest growing sport in North America. That growth trend was recently recognized by the city of Auburn, which opened two new regulation pickleball courts last week.

The new outdoor courts are located next to the Frank Brown Recreational Center, where a shuffleboard court was also built.

While many still don't know what pickleball is, they usually remember it by its peculiar name.

"The guy who developed it, his dog was Pickle," said Debbie Rusk, Auburn resident and pickleball player. "It's hard to tell what it is when you hear the name, but the guy who made it named it after his dog."

Rusk, 57, has been playing pickleball for about two years and is one of the Pickleball Peeps — a group of local pickleball players who communicate via weekly emails to arrange times to play. The group also participates in pickleball tournaments.

Rusk explained that pickleball is a mix between tennis and ping-pong, or table tennis. The court is set up like a tennis court, only smaller, and players use what looks like oversized ping-pong paddles and a ball to compete.

"It's something pretty much anybody can do, no matter what your activity level is or what your age is," she said.

Rusk took lessons through Parks and Recreation, but she said that lessons are not necessary.

Pickleball Peeps, she said, is a group all about having fun, and some of its own members are willing to show newcomers the ropes.

"We try to recruit people, just because it's so much fun," Rusk said.

Rusk plays weekly and usually in the evenings because she works during the day. Pickleball Peeps currently has about 40 to 50 active members, some of which are retired and some who still work.

"It's a pretty big age range," Rusk said. "We have several college kids that come out and play all the way up to retired people ... There's a guy that's been coming out there that wants to play on the men's handball team, and of course he kills us. We tell him, 'Rule No. 1: You can't be mean to the old people out here playing.' No, I'm kidding, but he's good; he's young; he's fast. There's a variety of people that come out there and play, and we all have fun together."

For those interested in playing with the Pickleball Peeps, you can find them on Facebook or email Ann Bergman, the public relations specialist with Parks and Recreation, at abergman@auburnalabama.org.

The two new pickleball courts can be reserved 24 hours in advance for a one-hour time period on Monday through Friday. To reserve a court, call Frank Brown at 501-2962.

The courts will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays; 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays; and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

Bergman said the city decided to install two new pickleball courts after results from this year's Citizen Survey showed a need for them.

"Seniors commented they wanted more diverse activities to do at the (Harris) Senior Center," she said. "Pickleball is a growing sport among the senior community nationwide."

To build the courts, Parks and Recreation used leftover money from Fiscal Year 2016, which ended at the end of September.

"It was important to try and get the new courts built as an immediate response in addition to other senior programs that have been added this year," she said.

For those who are just getting started in pickleball and don't own the equipment to play, the city has balls and paddles that can be used at the new courts, Bergman said.

Rusk said she was happy the city chose to support the sport by adding new courts.

"We're real glad (the city) did that for us" she said. "We have (four courts) at Indian Pines, but those are tennis courts that they just painted different lines on to play pickleball. The courts the city just did are purely pickleball courts."

Rusk said that aside from pickleball being a great way to stay active, she has benefited from the people she has met through Pickleball Peeps.

"I love the friendships," she said. "The people that I've met through pickleball, I wouldn't have met any other way ... We socialize, too, outside of pickleball. We're a laid-back group. We don't have a president, and we don't have bylaws. We're just out there to have fun."

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