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Pickleball action at Short Park

Across West Fourth Street, just a long foul ball away from the Original Little League field sits the once-controversial site of former Williamsport Mayor Gabe Campana’s 2014 Memorial Park Pickleball Court installation. Somewhat unpopular at the time, that action could be credited as the forerunner of what has become one of the fastest-growing sports in the country.

Perhaps ironically, the West End birthplace location for both Little League Baseball and Pickleball share a somewhat similar tale as to their beginnings. Carl Stotz’s youth baseball brainchild came about following a 1938 backyard conversation with his nephews seeking to give kids a chance to play the game in an organized league.

During the summer of 1968 in Bainbridge, Washington, Joel and Joan Pritchard’s 13-year-old son, Frank, was complaining that there wasn’t anything to do. Joel told his son that when he was young, the kids made up games to play. Frank challenged his father to ‘go make up a game.’ Joel did just that in their backyard, giving birth to Pickleball and the rest, as they say, is history.

Pickleball is a cross between badminton, tennis, ping-pong, and racketball. It can be played on a badminton-sized court with the net set to a height of 34 inches at the center. It is played with a perforated plastic ball and composite or wooden paddles about twice the size of ping-pong paddles. It can be played indoors or outdoors and is easy for beginners to learn. Since the onset of the pandemic, its popularity has exploded both nationally and locally.

Local organizers credit fitness and social aspects for its growing popularity. You can burn 40% more calories than walking, and it’s much easier on your joints. Four pickleball courts will fit on a tennis court, so the area a player needs to cover is significantly less.

“A smaller group began playing locally about five years ago, but since the pandemic the past two years, we have seen the interest really grow, and there are now over 300 people that are actively playing,” explained enthusiast Vito Sylvester. “Games are available at both the Muncy and Williamsport YMCAs, St. Ann’s, and Short Park in Loyalsock Township. In the surrounding area, there are places to play in Lewisburg, Milton, and Northumberland in either churches or athletic facilities.

“While golf and tennis are known as lifetime sports, Pickleball is much more forgiving. To me, it is like playing ping-pong on top of the table. We give people who come to play for the first time tips about the game. This game is as much cerebral as it is athletic. The other aspect of the game is that it is very social. The game is fun to play, and for a lot of people, its appeal becomes addictive. For me, the appeal of the game is akin to a runner’s high; you just want to get out there and do it. It is both fun and exercise at the same time.

“It could be described as relaxing competitive. There are some players who play with that competitive drive, but for most folks, it is more about getting exercise, socializing, and enjoying the game.”

Retired Williamsport businesswoman Ruth Croyle is among those who have learned to love the game.

“I’m a tennis player, and I knew a few people who were playing Pickleball. I came in to see what it was all about and fell in love with it,” Croyle noted. “It is a fast, quick game, and I love the camaraderie it provides. It is a great way to get exercise, and it appeals to retirees and the older section of our population.

“Describing it as a social sport is very accurate. It’s a great way to meet people you may not have come in contact with. Sometimes we go to lunch after we are done playing.

“The game has similarities to tennis, but of course, it is not as big as the tennis courts. There is more wrist action with the paddle, and I think it is a faster game, but because the court is smaller, it is more conducive for folks that may have some mobility issues. Players don’t have to run as far to get to the ball as they would have to on a tennis court.”

“I’d encourage people who have never played to come and try it,” Sylvester added. “All they need is some comfortable clothes and some court shoes. We’ll introduce them to the game and the rest of the stuff we can provide.”

For more information about the game or how to get started, contact Vito Sylvester at 570-971-7333. You can also check out YouTube, the Williamsport Pickleball Facebook page, or for additional information.