Nets are popping up on the basketball courts in the mornings, and tennis courts now have extra lines on them or are gone altogether. The courts behind Cook Field are filled with the sound of squeaking tennis shoes and thwacking paddles at least three times a week.
Pickleball has been the fastest-growing sport in America for three years now, and it’s here to stay at Miami University.
Junior accounting major Mitchell Groves is a new member of Miami’s pickleball club and emphasized the universal appeal of pickleball.
“Pickleball is sort of an in-between between tennis and ping-pong,” Groves said. “There’s a lot of [equal footing] for people who are new at it.”
Whether you’re 8 or 80, pickleball is accessible to anyone who can get on a court and is willing to learn.
The growing pains of a growing sport
The Miami University Pickleball Club started in the spring of 2021 with a mix of enthusiasm and logistical concerns. Junior sports leadership and management major Jacob Samberg joined the club for its inaugural meeting in the Rec Center.
“There were 80 people on the first day,” Samberg said. “It was really, really crowded. No one knew what they were doing at all, and 90% of people had a wooden paddle or some $10 thing you would get from Walmart.”
Samberg stuck with the club and is now its current president. In addition to having more organization and space, Samberg said part of the club’s appeal is that it’s open to anyone.
“We have a club sports label on us, but we’re not like most club sports,” Samberg said. “We don’t do tryouts, and we don’t cut people from the team — whoever comes in is allowed to play, no experience needed.”
The club has grown over the past two years, with 357 students signing up at their mega fair table this September. Harry Hughen, a senior majoring in history, international studies and East Asian studies, is the club’s secretary this year. He keeps track of attendance and said the numbers were up at this point in the year compared to last year.
“So far this year we’re seeing a positive trend,” Hughen said. “The attendance for the club usually whittles down throughout the year, but we had 42 people show up to our last practice and average attendance has been in the mid-30s so far.”
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The Pickleball Club practices three days a week on the Cook Field courts, weather permitting. The courts are filled with players preparing for tournaments, teaching other members or just playing with their friends. However, clearing the courts for practices can sometimes be challenging.
“Some tennis players have not departed with the best attitude recently,” Hughen said. “We’ve had to get our adviser involved once, and it’s a tough situation to navigate. We’d want them to be able to play too, but we do have [the courts] reserved for two hours.”
Belligerent tennis players notwithstanding, the pickleball club is here in a big way at Miami, and it is here to stay.
Pickleball drives changes at Miami and in the community
Support for pickleball goes beyond student clubs. Miami’s Recreation Services Department has made pickleball possible through court installations and modifications.
Geremy Bardon, the associate director for club sports at Miami, said the department made accommodations as the sport gained interest at the university.
“With the popularity of pickleball rising not only with students but also community members, the Rec Center added lines on the second court and some lines on the fourth court for a total of seven courts in the gym,” Bardon said.
In addition to student demand, Bardon said a big reason for the expansion was due to the community members who play pickleball.
Doug Curry is the executive director of Recreation Services at Miami and president of the TRI community center board. In addition to the court developments at Miami, he said there were renovations to the community center’s courts in town as well.
“Pickleball is booming, no question about that,” Curry said. “The courts at the TRI are jammed all the time on weekends — it started off as more of a senior activity, but now it’s booming for both students and the community.”
Curry said that the popularity of pickleball has helped achieve many recreation center goals at Miami and in the community.
“Because older people can play it, it opens up a whole new window activity-wise, from a rec professional perspective, that’s awesome,” Curry said. “Our whole goal is to get them to stay active and keep moving, so I think it’s great that it’s so popular.”
Pickleball embraced by all ages
The rise of pickleball has also been transformational for many older community members. Whether they are trying to stay active, make new friends or become the best at the sport, pickleball is the go-to for many people in their 60s or older.
Susan Chabot is one of the people who, along with community member Tony Shepherd, organized a pickleball tournament among community members on Sept. 16. The tournament was part of the Oxford Masters Game series, which happens each fall and is aimed at people above the age of 50.
Chabot was one of the first people in Oxford to play pickleball, having taped lines and playing with a few others around eight years ago. She described how nice it was when younger people started taking an interest in the game.
“Over the last two years, we've had three or four students who’ve walked on the courts and have asked ‘What are you doing? Can you teach me?’” Chabot said. “Yeah, the youngsters were playing with us old people. And we just laughed together … everybody was on the same level.”