Pickleball is rapidly growing in popularity in Oxford and the rest of the United States.
From the Ole Miss campus to surrounding parks, there are many places and opportunities to play. The university held a doubles intramural pickleball tournament in February and the Oxford Pickleball Association, established in 2021, keeps track of games throughout the calendar year.
But what exactly is pickleball and why is it so popular?
Pickleball was first played in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington. It was created by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum, who were trying to entertain their kids with a new summer activity.
“The sport combines many elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong,” according to the official USA Pickleball website.
It can be played either indoors or outdoors with a paddle and a plastic ball.
Hunter Thompson, an Ole Miss student, described his experience playing the sport.
“I think I’d known about pickleball for a while as a sport played by older people in country clubs,” the senior film production major said. “When I played with some friends in my hometown over the Christmas break … I was surprised by how easy of a game it was to learn and get into.”
Despite being around for almost 60 years, the sport skyrocketed in popularity approximately two years ago, thanks to the likes of many notable celebrities.
Athletic superstars Tom Brady and Lebron James both not only expressed interest in the sport, but went so far as to purchase respective pro pickleball teams in fall 2022.
These types of celebrity endorsements also led to the creation of a proper celebrity pickleball tournament on CBS, aptly titled “Pickled,” which features the likes of Stephen Colbert and Emma Watson.
The sport is typically enjoyed by people within the 55 or older demographic. However, younger generations have started to show interest in it, which could be attributed to its accessibility and low-skill requirement.
On pickleball’s recent spike in popularity, Thompson said it’s somewhat “of a phenomenon.” He and his friends frequently compete against one another at Oxford’s Avent Park courts.
“It’s not uncommon to see flyers notifying the courts being reserved by church groups or Greek organizations on campus to spend the day playing,” Thompson said. “You don’t need to invest a lot of time, skill or money to enjoy the game. You can buy a set of rackets and balls at Walmart for around $20 to start playing.”
Junior Cooper Caviness, also a film production major, said that he discovered pickleball through word of mouth.
While he has only been playing for the past few weeks, he appreciates the sport’s sudden growth.
“The community is really chill and welcoming but has a nice competitive side that keeps the sport interesting to play,” Caviness said.
Recently, the Oxford Board of Aldermen agreed to consider a plan that would convert some of the tennis courts at Avent Park into pickleball courts.
For more information on where to play and how to get involved, you can visit the Oxford Pickleball Association website.