Growing sport draws a crowd on Suncoast courts

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SARASOTA - It is a sport that is played on courts the size of badminton courts, but under rules similar to volleyball. Yet the game it seems to most resemble is tennis. It’s called pickleball.

The Senior Games of Pickleball will be held at Englewood Sports Complex on River Road Tuesday, but pickleball can be played almost anywhere -- and by anybody.

“It’s inter-generational, anybody can play, basically. We have all levels. Anybody used to playing a racquet sport, or a paddle sport or anything can come out on the court and play,” says Dee Ann Wilmot, coordinator of North Sarasota County Pickleball.

The sport was named for the family dog of one of the inventors of the game. And even though many have never heard of it, hundreds of thousands across the country are playing it.

“I just discovered this a couple of years ago, and it’s really taking the country over. I mean, any state we go to when we travel, they play it. You can go online and find pickleball…it’s fun,” says enthusiast Terry Wingate.

In Sarasota, it is played at Longwood Park, Colonial Oaks Park, and in Venice and Englewood. It is a fast-paced game, but because most of the playing space is available during the day, the younger people have yet to take to pickleball on the Suncoast.

“Everybody has their good days and bad days. But we have different levels. We have a beginner intermediate group, where you can go in any time, learn how to play…they’ll be very patient, tell you how to score. But it’s very fast. So if you have fast reaction time, you’re really going to love the game,” says Wilmot.

There is more to this than just the game itself. “It’s great for exercise, camaraderie, everybody gets along…it’s just a fantastic game,” says Wingate.

It is played with a whiffle-ball and a wood, or composite, racquet. The game is easy to learn, but it’s not for shrinking violets either. The size of the court does help on those of us who are more (ahem) mature.

ABC 7 contacted the YMCA about the possibility of adding pickleball at night. They said they were looking into it because the popularity was growing so rapidly.