More than 3 million people play pickleball in the U.S. — a number that's been soaring upward by more than 10 percent each year in the past decade.
Yet it doesn't get much fanfare. A local pickleball player describes it as the "fastest growing sport in America that no one has heard of."
But that is changing, especially here in the Alexandria lakes area.
A local group of pickleball players turned out in full force at the Alexandria City Council's last meeting on July 22 to urge the city to convert the seldom used tennis courts at City Park into pickleball courts.
City leaders weren't taken by surprise at the request. A separate group of pickleball players has also been talking to the city about getting more places to play. Bill Thoennes, director of the city's Park and Recreation Facilities Division, is also aware of pickleball's popularity; it's been in his budget for several years.
The council voted unanimously to consider the request for more pickleball courts in its budget for next year, an expense estimated to cost about $100,000. We believe the investment would be well worth it.
The sport has many things going for it. As a racket sport with elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong, it's fun, easy to play, once you get the hang of it, yet challenging and fast-paced. Players (singles or doubles) use solid paddles and try to hit a ball, that's similar to a wiffle ball, over a 3-foot high net, a little lower than tennis court nets which are 3-and-a-half-feet high at the posts.
One neat thing about the game is its flexibility. It's fun for all ages and abilities. Around the world, there are a growing number of wheelchair leagues and competitions. Pickleball also provides excellent aerobic exercise, according to health experts. Players build strength in their shoulders, legs, knees, back and spine.
The group that addressed the council noted that senior citizens are especially enthusiastic about the sport. Having more courts would allow more of them to play. It could also draw more people into our area through tournaments, which would deliver an economic impact to the area.
How much impact? The USA Pickleball Association cites a recent impact study in Carrollton, Georgia that suggested that 20 percent of those who enter pickleball tournaments were from outside the local area. Each of those out-of-town players spent money in the area on food, gas, lodging, shopping and other expenses that was estimated at $122 per day.
Having pickleball tournaments in our area would also give visitors a taste of what the Alexandria lakes area offers and entice them to make a return visit.
To sum it up, Alexandria has the chance to tap into an activity that's undergoing staggering growth; create a healthy recreational outlet where senior citizens and other age groups could socialize and have fun; add to Alexandria's reputation as a great place to live, work, play and prosper; and draw more people into the area who would pump dollars into local businesses.
Let's build those courts.