Pickleball, the sport with perhaps the wackiest name, is anything but wacky to those who play it.

And while you may never have heard of the sport, it has found its way to the area thanks to Culpeper Baptist Church—which has four permanent pickleball courts in its parking lot and the ability to set up an indoor court in the worship center should the weather turn bad.

The rules of the sport are a mix of badminton and tennis. The ball is served underhand, and like tennis, participants can either hit it after it bounces once or volley it back.

Unlike tennis, however, participants are not permitted to volley the ball the first time it is on their side of the court.

Origins

The game was created by three fathers in Washington state in 1965, according to the United States Pickleball Association website.

Joel Pritchard, a congressman from the state, and his friend Bill Bell, returned to Pritchard’s home outside Seattle one weekend after playing a round of golf. They found their families sitting around, bored, and decided to play a game of badminton.

When they couldn’t find all the necessary equipment, they decided to improvise with ping-pong paddles and a plastic ball.

The game was an instant hit with the two families, and they tweaked the rules as the weekend progressed. The following weekend, another friend, Barney McCallum, was introduced to the game and the three men set out to create the official rules of pickleball.

At the time, the game had no official name. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that “pickleball” was selected after Pritchard’s dog Pickles earned a reputation for running off with the ball in the middle of a game.

Since its inception, the sport has grown to the point where there are now 4,000 official courts across the country.

Keri Nicholson, 37, who plays at the church, describes pickleball as a sport that is different from others. She plays every week during the summer season, and sees it as a social, fun, recreational sport for all age groups and abilities. According to Nicholson, the sport is very easy to learn.

“As long as you can swing a racket, you can play,” she said.

Offering Culpeper ‘something different’

After initially hearing about the sport, Culpeper Baptist Church decided to look into it and brought the Pickleball Association’s ambassadors to Virginia to help set up the game and teach the basics.

That was in March 2017, and since then, church officials have seen it grow, with people going from just trying it out to never missing the chance to play when a court is available.

Mike Showalter, the church’s deacon and pickleball organizer, says the ability for people of all ages to play the game is one of the things that makes it great.

“It is a sport that is easy for athletic people along with seniors,” he said. “A lot of different people have come out and played, and all of them have become hooked.”

Harvey Chase, 71, is one of the participants who is “hooked.” He plays at the church as often as he can, and enjoys the game’s ability to keep him active and how it always has a sense of fun behind it. He describes it as “wicked fun.”

Culpeper Baptist offers open-court time on Tuesday mornings and Thursday evenings, which has brought 50 on-and-off pickleball players to the church, officials said.

“You don’t have to be a church member, anyone is free to come out and play” at no cost, Showalter said. “We just want to give the community something to do that is different.”

The church recently hosted its first-ever pickleball tournament, featuring 14 participants across a diverse range of ages. The tournament took place on Nicholson’s birthday, and her team was able to compete, but in the end she was just in it for the fun.

“We were competitive,” she said.

While the church has held only one tournament to this point, it has begun planning future events to begin in the spring. For the first tournament, the prizes for first, second and third place all revolved around pickles.

“We had some fun with the prizes; the first-place team received a one-gallon jar of pickles, second place got just a regular jar of pickles and third place received some pickle juice,” Showalter said.

Other local options to play

The Culpeper Sport and Fitness center also boasts the capability for people to come in and play pickleball, with the ability to convert one of its indoor tennis courts to accommodate a game, though so far not a lot of people have taken advantage of the opportunity according to officials at the facility.

With the way the sport has gained in popularity, however, and the recent surge in players at Culpeper Baptist Church, the Sport and Fitness center might eventually have people lined up out the door asking for a court.

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Hunter Robinson is the sports editor for the Star-Exponent and can be reached at hrobinson@starexponent.com or 540/825-0771. You can follow him on Twitter @CSEPreps.

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