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The Daily Tar Heel

Pickleball picks up speed in Chapel Hill

Two people chalked Pro-Trump slogans and propaganda in and around the Pit on Monday. Pro-Bernie signs were also present.
Two people chalked Pro-Trump slogans and propaganda in and around the Pit on Monday. Pro-Bernie signs were also present.

As folks walk in, they sign up on a white board to play a round and find a paddle. Some have already been playing since 9:15 a.m., learning the rules of the game. Those who have just signed up wait on metal bleachers. They’re waiting to play pickleball, one of the fastest growing sports in the United States.

Chapel Hill resident Jim Wilson had been traveling to Cary to play pickleball when he moved to North Carolina. He introduced his friend JB Marr to the sport, and the two approached Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation to make changes to courts to make pickleball available in Chapel Hill. They are now the ambassadors of pickleball in Chapel Hill and Pittsboro.

“I fought my way into the community center,” Wilson said.

He said they started with one net and his personal paddles and balls.

Pickleball is a mutation of tennis, badminton and table tennis. Compared to tennis, the net is lower and the court is smaller. Instead of letting the ball bounce on the court, players volley the ball back and forth, like in badminton.

Wilson said there are 400 residents on the pickleball email list, with about 20 percent being regular players. He said the core age group is between 55 and 70, but players as young as 13 and as experienced as 85-years-old play.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the basketball court in the Chapel Hill Community Center is reserved from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for pickleball.

Dick Tate, a player and volunteer who helps organize games, said they are not necessarily a rigid organization.

“It’s a very social game,” Tate said. “There’s competitive play, to be sure, but the best part is we go out and have a good time.”

The Chapel Hill and Hargraves community centers supply the equipment and space to play the game in their indoor facilities. However, starting July 1, the Chapel Hill Community Center will implement a fee to play pickleball in their gym.

Coreen Oei, a former tennis player from Durham, gives lessons to those who want to learn how to play the sport. She picked up pickleball a year and a half ago when she learned the court was smaller than a tennis court.

“It uses up a lot of energy, but it doesn’t require me to run as much,” Oei said.

This Saturday, Chapel Hill will have the grand opening of the Ephesus Park pickleball courts. These six courts will be the first courts in Chapel Hill dedicated to pickleball and will be free for walk-on play.

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