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Paddle Play

Pickleball's popularity soars on the Shore

By Debra R. Messick

Photos by Maire McArdle

RIGHT: Mike Jump plays pickle ball with his wife Jane, opposite, at least 3 to 4 times a week. The outdoor courts at the Easton Family YMCA @ Peachblossom in Easton provide nearly year-round access when weather permits.

One summer afternoon in 1965, three Washington state dads — seeking backyard family fun — planted the seed of a future sporting phenomenon. What began with ping pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball atop an old badminton court morphed into the pastime of pickleball.

With simple rules, games lasting less than 15 minutes, condensed court space and a sociable vibe, pickleball play steadily grew, flourishing in sunbelt states of California, Arizona and Florida — especially among, but not limited to, seniors.

By 1984, pickleball had an official organization; by 1990, it had reached all 50 states, reaching 10,000 registered members by 2015 and 30,000 by 2018. In 2019, three million players participated, marking it among the country’s fastest-growing sports, according to the Sports Fitness Industry Association, including across the Eastern Shore.

From beach to bay, at YMCAs, community centers, parks, clubs and schools, pickleball courts, clinics and tournaments are everywhere, with more planned.

Often called ‘addictive,’ transcending ages and athletic levels, it’s family-friendly and quickly learned, with shorter, less physically intensive games providing beneficial physical activity feeling more like recreational, convivial fun, according to Wendy Palmer, associate executive director at Easton Family YMCA @ Washington. In 2014, the Easton Family YMCA @ Peachblossom gymnasium created two indoor courts, adding six outdoor courts in 2016. In 2018, the Easton Family YMCA @ Washington featured four indoor courts, with Open Play currently available daily.

“The YMCA held pickleball camp last summer and holds regular clinics,” Palmer said. Since 2018, the YMCA has hosted five tournaments, each attracting up to 180 players across the region and beyond. Last October’s first outdoor tournament — limited to YMCA members during the pandemic — drew 50 players.

A doubles pickleball match is a fun way to socialize.

In Talbot County, Nick Papson and Mike and Jane Jump are USA Pickleball ambassadors (volunteer advocates). Papson maintains an email list of those involved in area play, coordinates, and communicates information, and stays current with new developments. The Jumps, active in the Worcester County pickleball community prior to moving to Easton, help several clubs streamline tournament management using a specialized computer program. Mike Jump has also earned a rigorous Level II Certification, qualifying him to lead instructional clinics.

All three began as novices. After repeatedly turning down a Western Shore friend’s insistence that he come play, Papson — with a tennis background — finally took the plunge, soon finding himself “hooked.” At his Easton weekend home, he called the YMCA repeatedly asking about pickleball. In 2014, after receiving an email announcing a dedicated court at last, “I was so excited, I jumped right in my car and drove down there,” he said.

Mike Jump’s initiation via a younger fellow cast member of a local theater production eventually contributed to major weight loss. Wife Jane remembers the exuberant joy he and other players demonstrated — “the guys were jumping over the net” she added, with a laugh. After watching two women in their seventies enthusiastically embrace tournament play, she also embraced pickleball.

Volunteer Talbot County play coordinator Bob Kopec, who has also played in Florida, adopted the scheduling app Heja used there. Currently, about 75 Easton players post and receive game information. Kopec, along with other players, also owns a portable net, helping to adapt tennis, basketball, and other courts; paint and tape can also help them conform to pickleball specifications.

Cambridge area pickleball enthusiast Glen Wong began playing three years ago after an injury sidelined him from volleyball and tennis. He now helps Dorchester County ambassador Dave Thatcher coordinate play, primarily at what has been the area’s outdoor tennis facility, Glasgow Courts. “People would be surprised how many playing spots exist across the Shore,” Wong said.

“Last summer the Hyatt (Regency Chesapeake) and Dorchester County Parks and Recreation Department hosted a successful tournament,” he added. “And just across the county line in Sharptown, there are two of the area’s relatively few permanent pickleball courts.”

For more information about pickleball, visit www.pickleballusa.org.

Pickleball Locations

Across the Shore

Fluctuating Covid-19 restrictions continue to impact play. It’s best to call ahead at the numbers below to confirm court availability.

YMCA of the Chesapeake:

Easton Family Y @ Peachblossom (410-822-0566)

Easton Family Y @ Washington (410-822-1515)

Perkins Family Y & Bay Hundred Senior Center

St. Michaels (410-745-5963)

Robbins Y, Cambridge (410-221-0555)

Henson Y, Salisbury (410-749-0101)

Lower Shore Y, Pocomoke (410-957-9622)

Kent Y, Chestertown (410-778-3148)

Cecil County, Elkton (410-398-2333)coming soon

Queen Anne’s County, Centreville (443-262-9994) (groundbreaking this summer)

There’s more! Parks and Recreation Departments plus residential communities are working to create and adapt pickleball courts to meet skyrocketing demand.

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