Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum could not have guessed the sport they created 49 years ago would become one of the fastest growing adult sports in America. However, pickleball is growing faster than ever with more than 100,000 active players and facilities to play in all 50 states.
"It's the fastest growing adult sport in the country," said USA Pickleball Association Ambassador Dave Iselin. "We've outgrown tennis. (Tennis is) played big time in high school, but when high school ends, the kids don't want to play on the courts much anymore. The public doesn't play the game anymore. With pickleball, this is fun, people don't get mad or angry about it, they just enjoy the game and do it for fun and relaxation and recreation."
Pickleball is a unique sport that is played on a court the size of a badminton court, it is played with a paddle made out of lightweight composite material and a plastic ball with holes in it like a wiffleball. The rules keep people from getting hurt, allowing for the game to be played by different generations of people.
Recently, the Brookfield Recreational Department approved Iselin to bring pickleball to them. Next summer, open play will be open at a site in Brookfield, much like the open play available in Waukesha, Menomonee Falls and many other locations across Wisconsin.
The game has grown at a national level that it is now a sport in the Senior Olympics. In fact, a player from Wisconsin has a medal to show for her efforts.
"The first summer that I played I entered the Senior Olympics and won a gold medal and have been playing in the Senior Olympics ever since and plan on going again this year," said Carleen Harasha.
Harasha said she plays at Banting Park in Waukesha as much as she can, usually four or five times a week.
"This sport is really addicting," she said. "As soon as you start playing, you just keep playing and playing. I retired four years ago, and this sport has been a life saver for me."
Another local player, Katie Kuntz, said she started playing the sport as a family activity with her parents and husband. She grew up playing tennis and said despite the comparisons that can be made between tennis and pickleball that pickleball is a sport anyone can play at a nice pace.
"(Pickleball is) just more laid back and more fun," Kuntz said. "It's still competitive, just not as competitive. There are always plenty of people to play with at all different levels."
The notion that the sport is more inviting to new players is something that Iselin touched on.
"All the people are very nice," said Iselin. "It's a very friendly game. So, the people who have played will teach others who haven't played, which makes it very nice."
Iselin said he is now focused on opening access to pickleball to younger players who played pickleball previously but do not have anywhere to play once they are done with school.
"We do not have any organized programs for the youth," said Iselin. "That's my intention for next year. There are a lot of high school players who play the game, but there's no place to play at all for the youth to play. My intention is to be able to get communities to provide Pickleball for the youth as well as to the elderly."
To get this accomplished, Iselin has to go back to the same people who are now in charge of the pickleball areas and advocate for the interested youth contingent.
Currently, more than 2,500 pickleball players are active in Wisconsin. Organizers of the sport are seeing that the supply of courts often cannot reach demand of players.
"Right now, we don't have enough courts in the city of Waukesha," said Iselin. "In fact, we can't keep up with it, it's growing so fast down here. In the city of Milwaukee, it's the same way."
More on pickleball can be found on its official website: usapa.org. For info on areas to play pickleball in Wisconsin and the associated fees, visit pickleballwi.com/play.