By LYDIA BERGLAR
In recent years, the game of pickleball has seen an uptick in interest across the country. Trenton United Methodist Church (TUMC) joined the growing sport by adding Thursday evening pickleball to their schedule of events.
Gail Heddon and Darren Biddle coordinate the pickleball nights. Biddle explained that it’s been happening for about a year and a half. “My family started playing down at the Four Fields,” he said. “Somebody got the idea to put some lines on the gym floor so we can play here. In wintertime, this is a good place to get out and play.”
The gathering draws folks from around the county in addition to TUMC members. Biddle explained, “A lot of people who come aren’t from our church. We’ve got some coming from Baptist churches or Church of Christ, from the community, from the high school.”
Jimmy Cash attends a church in Mentone, Ala., but enjoys the social aspect of playing pickleball. He said, “I played tennis for fun in college. This is a more social game than tennis. It’s a very popular game right now.”
The sport, which includes similar elements to tennis, badminton, and ping pong, is appropriate for all ages. Biddle said, “We have people playing from a young age all the way up to their 80s. My mother is almost 80, and she comes.”
According to the USA Pickleball website, the sport was invented in 1965. The site explains, “After playing golf one Saturday during the summer, Joel Pritchard, congressman from Washington State, and Bill Bell, successful businessman, returned to Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island, WA (near Seattle) to find their families sitting around with nothing to do. The property had an old badminton court so Pritchard and Bell looked for some badminton equipment and could not find a full set of rackets. They improvised and started playing with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball.”
According to USA Pickleball, the first national pickleball tournament (for all ages) was held in 2009 with 400 players. In 2015, the United States Amateur Pickleball Association reached over 10,000 members. By the end of 2021, that number had grown to 53,000, “a 43% increase from the previous year and the largest single growth year to date for the organization.”
A New York Times article titled “Why Is Pickleball So Popular?” (last updated Dec. 14, 2022), noted that the plastic balls used in the sport are easier to hit than a tennis ball because they do not bounce as much and cannot move as fast. The Times also explained that lighter paddles, smaller courts, and underhand serving make the sport more accessible to multiple skill levels.
Tabitha Ryan, TUMC member, said, “I love it because it’s exercise. It beats sitting on the couch at night. Sometimes we get to laughing and cutting up and almost forget how to play. It’s a good two hours of good exercise.”
Leisa and Mark Cagle also appreciate that pickleball is a way to stay active. Leisa explains, “I retired in September, and pickleball is something to do when you’re retired. We also hike, bike, and run. We stay active!”
The Cagle’s church, Trenton First Baptist, is also starting a pickleball evening. Leisa said, “I think we’ll have it on Mondays. We’ll probably still come here, so we’ll play twice a week.”
Two of the younger participants, Elijah Burrell and Jordan Biddle, also said how much they enjoyed the game. Burrell has been participating for a little over a month. Biddle said, “We started playing in the summer, and when they mentioned bringing it to our church, we said yeah!”
Dade County also boasts a pickleball national champion, Bart Brannon. Brannon most recently won a mixed doubles national competition event in June 2022.
TUMC Pastor Dennis Flaugher noted that he is happy for this to be a community event and anyone is welcome to come. Pickleball is every Thursday at 6 p.m. at the church’s gym (behind the main buildings).
The church has extra wooden paddles for anyone who needs one, although many participants bring their own preferred paddles.