Pickleball a winning sport worldwide, as well as in FC

Some of the members of the Fairfield Rec pickleball league.

FAIRFIELD COUNTY – Court time in Fairfield County has taken a new dimension in recent years since the Fairfield County Recreation Commission opened its gates for Pickleball.

Pickleball? Perhaps it’s one of the more popular sports activities you’ve not heard of.

Fairfield County Councilman Doug Pauley was once one of those people who had never heard of the sport. A couple of months ago, his brother-in-law, Robert Cail, asked him to play.

“He called me one day and asked why don’t you come play pickleball,” Pauley said. “I didn’t even know what pickleball was until I googled it to see, and watched some YouTube videos. Once I got the rules of the game I went out to the Fairfield County courts where I played for the first time.”

Cail sold the sport to his brother-in-law quickly.

“It’s a great game,” Pauley said. “I’m a former tennis player and ping pong player and it combines the two really. It’s not as big as a tennis court and not as small as a ping pong table. It’s in between.”

Cail, who calls himself “a pickleball fanatic,” has only been playing five months. He picked up the sport after playing some tennis over the years, but devoting his sporting time to racquetball for the past 12 years.

“One of the great things about it is that it combines four sports into one: tennis, ping pong, racquetball and badminton,” he said. “All those skills can be brought to play in pickleball, so you don’t have the time investment in learning a new sport.

“What I’ve seen over the past four or five years is that the sport has really grown,” Cail said. “At a national tournament down at Naples, Fla., they documented that the pickleball tournament down there drew $4.5 million and a total of 9,400 hotel room nights over a three-day tournament. It’s just an illustration of just how fast the sport is growing that one tourney brought people from 15 different nations.”

The net sport appeals to people from almost all court and net sports.

Anil Karn, a calculus teacher at Fairfield Central for the past five years is the county ambassador of the USA Pickleball Association and the impetus for its growth in the county.

 He drew Fairfield County into the pickleball mix a couple of years ago, when he used the courts on 321 Bypass to hold matches.

When Fairfield County Parks and Recreation Director Russell Price visited Karn’s games, he was impressed. Not long after, two courts were set aside for pickleball at the Rec Center on certain afternoons.

“This is a very fast-growing sport in the U.S., with about 2.5 million people playing across the country,” Karns said.

A Washington state man, Joel Pritchard, came up with the idea of the backyard sport and the game is named after the Pritchard’s dog, Pickles.

“The 20 foot x 40 foot court is badminton size, the height of the net is tennis, and the skill level is something like ping pong, except it’s on the ground court,” Karn said. The game is played with a wiffle ball and paddles. The court is marked for both doubles and singles players.

“If counties have older tennis courts they’re not using, it’s very easy to overlay a pickleball court on a tennis court,” Cail said. “Two to four courts can be laid out on one tennis court, so it’s not a lot of cost in terms of infrastructure.”

Any age can play.

“All ages enjoy playing. We’ve got kids as young as 6, and two members that are 73 and playing exceptionally well,” Cail said of the Fairfield Rec Center team.

“It gives us the opportunity to come out and have fun and remain physically healthy,” he said. “I’ve lost 12 pounds, my wife lost 13 and my stepson lost 18 pounds just swatting at this wiffle ball.”

The sport has since emerged from the backyard and come into its own. Karn said it has representation in Richland, Lexington, and Kershaw counties in addition to Fairfield. Blythewood’s John Martin is also a USAPA ambassador.

“The Rec Center has assured us that by the end of September there will be two more courts, so I’m really thankful for their support,” Karns said.

Pickleball might sound a little odd on the courts. It sounds like a bunch of woodpeckers playing tennis,” Cail said with a laugh, “but once people get hooked, they’re devoted players. Plus, it gives folks that had other successes but had maybe a knee injury something to play. You get a pack of plastic balls for nine bucks, and a decent paddle costs $25 and, wham, you’re ready to go.”

To register to play pickleball in Fairfield County Parks and Recreation, contact Karn at 803-239-6449. For more information on pickleball, go to the USA Pickleball Association website at https://usapickleball.org/