Pickleball – The Craze that's Sweeping the Tristate

Del Duduit

The craze sweeping across the country has found a home in the Tri State.

Pickleball has become one of the fastest growing sports in the world, and Ashland residents Bob Stacey and his friend Lynn White are making sure the local area is included in all the fun.

Pickleball is an indoor or outdoor racket/paddle sport. Two or four players hit a perforated hollow plastic ball over a net, set 36-inches high, using a solid-faced paddle.

The sport combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong into one blast of a game played on a court close to the size of an official badminton court. Opponents smack the ball back and forth over the net until one of them makes a mistake.

This fun activity was invented in 1965 by three dads whose kids were bored with the normal summertime activities on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Washington. Since then, pickleball has evolved from the use of original handmade equipment and simple rules into a popular sport throughout the United States and Canada. It’s also growing internationally with many European and Asian countries adding courts.

Just over a decade ago, Stacey and White attended the Kentucky Senior Games in Frankfort, Kentucky, where they were introduced to pickleball.

“A lot of people were playing the game, and I’d never really seen it before,” Stacey said. “We played it and enjoyed it so much that we came back and talked to our local YMCA about getting a court to play.”The Ashland YMCA agreed and allowed one court, and residents quickly took to the sport.

“It just grew and grew and grew,” White said. “Pickleball just took off here.”

Jason Aldrich is the current president of the Ashland Kentucky Pickleball Club (AKPC) and is preparing for the annual tournament in September at Ashland Central Park. He anticipates about 150 players to take part in the annual tradition.

“This sport has grown so rapidly,” he said. “I started playing about four years ago. I got hooked on the first day. It’s that much fun. It’s good for you and a lot of fun.”

This is Aldrich’s second year as president of the club, which is about 85 members strong.

“A lot of credit, most of it really, goes to Bob and Lynn who brought the sport here,” Aldrich added. “They were the pioneers, I guess. I remember coming off the court when I was done, and there would be four or five people waiting to play. Now, there are 30 or 40 waiting to play–every night–unless there is bad weather. Everyone loves to play it.”

There are now ten dedicated courts at Central Park, and courts are also available at the Ashland YMCA and the Ashland Tennis Club.

“Pickleball has low impact on the knees, and it’s a great social event,” Stacey said. “It’s great exercise that involves hand-eye coordination. A couple of people have told me that this sport has changed their lives forever.”

Pickleball has also expanded to Ironton, Huntington, and the Portsmouth areas.

“I believe this game started out originally for seniors or little kids,” White said. “But it’s a game that everyone can play–no matter how old or young. It’s for all ages, and it has different levels of competition. You can play and have fun, laugh, or you can take part in serious competition and tournaments.”

The annual tournament at Central Park slated for Sept. 15-17 attracts players from all over.

“We’ll have players from Columbus, Cincinnati, Lexington, Louisville, Dayton, Huntington and locally–like Ironton and Portsmouth and Wheelersburg,” Stacey said. “It’s good for everyone who wants to play, it’s good competition and fun, and it’s good for the city and local restaurants and hotels.”

The September tournament continues to grow in popularity to the point where there will be food caterers on site to help feed players and spectators.

“This tournament has become a popular weekend event,” Aldrich added.

Interested participants may find out more information and register at www.pickleballtournaments.com.

The game is so popular that there are now even professional pickleball athletes affiliated with such associations as the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP), the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA), and Major League Pickleball (MLP).

The MLP plans to expand in 2023 to 16 teams and has drawn investments from high profile athletes such as the NFL’s Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes and NBA standouts Lebron James, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love.

Championship purses at the Major League level earn players up to $25,000 while the 2023 PPA tour is expected to include 20 tournaments with total prize money of $2.5 million.

“Professional players take this game very serious,” Stacey said. “Most of the professionals are ex-tennis players.”

Aldrich said the club is planning to offer weekly lessons soon at both the local and amateur level.

“There are lots of smaller tournaments around the area all the time,” White added. “They are great ways to get some exercise and have a lot of fun. I know I’ve made some really good friends forever because of Pickleball.”

Check out the AKPC Facebook page for more information at facebook.com/www.AKYPC.