Pickleball takes hold in Fairfield County

Front row, from left: Belinda Wilson, Sherri Lyon, Carol Ann Yarborough, Steve Williams, Janet Jones, Lawrence Hodge, and Mary Gatson. Back row: Page Wade, Steve McDonald, Ron Jennings, Missy Jennings, Samuel Hodge and Greg Miller. | Photo: Barbara Ball

WINNSBORO – Pickleball first arrived in Fairfield County around 2019, says Fairfield County Parks and Recreation Director Lucas Vance. Since then, he says, it has taken off as the fastest-growing sport in the community, gaining popularity among people of all ages.

“Scrambling to find court space, we resurfaced the tennis courts, repainted the surface, and converted one of the tennis courts to a pickleball court,” he says of the initial response to the sport’s growing popularity.

“At that time we had just a handful of players, but over the past two years it has just boomed,” he says.

“We have a group of 20-25 players who play five days a week at the Boykin [Recreation] Center in Winnsboro. We expanded the two courts to four courts, we purchased some pickleball nets and put in a new gate for the court, put in a new court divider, and those four courts are filed up pretty much five nights a week.”

The popularity of Pickleball – a sport described as a cross between tennis and ping-pong, which is played with wooden paddles and a kind of miniature wiffleball – is gaining popularity elsewhere in the county, with a group also playing three days a week at the Mitford Community Center and another group clamoring for pickleball courts to be added at Lake Monticello Park.

“So, our next order of business is going to be looking at the tennis courts at Monticello Park to see what we can do to repurpose those to accommodate pickleball,” Vance says.

He says the members of the Fairfield Pickleball club who’ve fallen in love with the game with a funny name have the enthusiasm of a puppy with a new toy.

As that enthusiasm continues to spread, he says, the county recreation department also has plans to expand and improve the pickleball courts in Winnsboro, adding more courts and features like windscreens, and has applied for state grant funding to help pay for the $28,000 project.

In a longer-term effort, he says, he hopes to be able to host pickleball tournaments in Winnsboro, which could bring visitors to the area and help drive the local economy.

One local player, Anil Karn, is a USA Pickleball Ambassador who’s had success playing in tournaments across the country, Vance says. The Fairfield Pickleball Club also has several leaders and active members who make an ongoing effort to spread their love of the game.

“We’re just one big family, and we would love to have more people” says Sheriff’s Deputy Steve McDonald, chairman of the club. “They don’t have to buy a paddle. They don’t have to buy a ball. We have extras paddles, we have extra balls, and we can introduce them to the game.”

Part of the appeal, Vance and McDonald both say, is that pickleball is a sport that anyone can play.

For one thing, Vance says, it’s played on a smaller court than tennis – so although it uses the same court space where tennis is played, it requires less lateral movement and so is easier on the knees.

“You’ll see high-school kids, you’ll see working-class [adults], you’ll see senior citizens. You’ll see male, female – a wide range of demographics,” Vance says. “It’s really enjoyable to see the community come together that way and enjoy the game of pickleball.”

McDonald, 67 says it’s certainly improved his health – and it’s good for everyone, regardless of age or physical size.

“It’s an all-inclusive sport,” he says. “That’s what I love about it.”

Because the club members play frequently, they’ve become close and have initiated other activities as a group such as picking up trash along Hwy 321. They recently adopted the stretch of highway from the Baptist Church and Wilson Chevrolet to north of the recreation center. Last weekend they held an emotional good-by party for a member of the club whose visa recently ran out and must return to his home country. The club gifted him with a pickle ball stuffed with money for his trip home.

“We’re a club,” McDonald says, “but we’re really more of a multi-cultural, diverse family. We all come together to play pickle ball, and it’s turned out to be a lot of fun and a really good thing, and we welcome others to join us.”

Pickleball is played at the Boykin Recreation Center in Winnsboro on Sunday afternoons from 4-6 p.m. and Monday through Thursday evenings from 6-8 p.m., and at the Mitford Community Center Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 3-7 p.m. and Fridays from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

More information can be obtained by calling the county recreation department at (803) 635-9114 or the Fairfield Pickleball Club at (803) 530-9590.

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]