Pickleball might not sound like the name of a serious sport, but don’t say that to the dozens of Cary citizens who gather in Bond Park Community Center every chance they get to play a game.
Similar to badminton and tennis, it’s played on a divided court, but instead of a birdie or tennis ball, players use a Wiffle ball. The net sits lower, the court is smaller, and the ball moves more slowly than a tennis ball, which makes it great for any age of player.
Regarded as the fastest-growing sport for seniors, pickleball usually attracts about two dozen active adults to the indoor court at Bond Park three days a week. Most are 55 or older, but ages range more than 20 years in either direction.
If it sounds like fun, give it a try. And even if it doesn’t, consider giving pickleball (named after a dog, Pickles, who enjoyed chasing the ball when the sport was invented) a chance to prove you wrong.
“I didn’t want to go at first,” said William “Bubba” Grant, whose wife picked up the sport a few months before she convinced him to come along. After a year and a half, “Now all I think about is, ‘When can I play?’”
Never fear if you’re a stranger to sports. Cary Pickleball Ambassador Mike Walsh or Holly Springs and Garner Pickleball Ambassador Luis Vazquez are more than happy to show you the ropes when you arrive.
“The thing about pickleball is people with average athletic abilities can reach a very good level in a short time. And it’s very social, with a good mix of men and women,” Walsh said.
All equipment is provided, and seniors 55 and older are free to play. Younger participants sometimes carry a small fee. Walsh noted players should wear comfortable clothes and either tennis shoes or cross-trainers (not running shoes) for lateral ankle stability.
“The problem with a lot of sports is, can you play football after high school? Can you play basketball? Can you play tennis at my age?” asked avid player Jerry Burleson, who has been known to log six hours a day in Florida, where the sport is especially popular. “My wife never played sports and now she’s out here all the time.”
“Cary has exactly the right demographics to become the Southeastern leader in pickleball,” Walsh said. “In the West it’s Arizona, and in the South it’s Florida, but this region doesn’t have one.”
The fall schedule at Bond Park, beginning Sept. 4, will be Tuesdays from 1 to 3 p.m., Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 3 to 5:30 p.m. The Town of Cary has also agreed to paint a pickleball court on a slab in White Oak Park.
Pickleball groups are popping up everywhere, from community centers to neighborhoods to country clubs. Contact your nearest center to learn if pickleball is on the schedule — or make a request to add it.
Those with questions about their first-time pickleball experience can contact Vazquez at (919) 561-8737 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Walsh at (919) 747-1976 or email@example.com. The USA Pickleball Association also has helpful information for prospective players.