Did you know a member of Congress invented the sport of pickleball? In 1965, Congressman Joel Prichard, along with Barney McCallam and Bill Bell, created the addictive game in the state of Washington.
Pickleball is a sport played as either singles or doubles on a 44-foot by 20-foot court with a net measuring 36 inches, drooping to 34 inches — complete with terms such as kitchen, volleying, fault, side out and dink.
Fast forward six decades and pickleball is the fastest-growing sport for all ages today. More than 36 million players are enjoying the sport nationwide in 2023, with the dominant age bracket of enthusiastic participants between 18 and 34.
That’s not to say it isn’t a bit controversial. Community social media pages are full of complaints about the incessant noise it makes. And tennis enthusiasts are frustrated that their courts are being repurposed for the growing fad.
Why the growth? Pickleball appeals to a wide demographic, attracting players of all ages and skill levels. A strong, expanding player base has ensured a consistent demand for equipment, facilities, and coaching. Pickleball’s accessibility and low learning curve make it an ideal choice for individuals seeking an engaging, low-impact physical activity. As more people recognize the health benefits and social aspects of the game, its popularity will continue to soar.
The sport of pickleball is surging in Indiana as well.
The Indiana Pickleball Association reported a healthy 35% increase in membership from 2019 to 2021. The amount of pickleball courts constructed statewide is also impressive.
At least 20 facilities have been built in Indianapolis the past two years. Chicken ’N Pickle, sporting “a casual, chef driven restaurant and sports bar that also boasts pickleball courts and a variety of yard games” will open in Fishers soon. Grand National Racquet Center in Westfield has been busy as well. It, along with the Association of Pickleball Professionals, will host a series of prominent events starting in mid-December at Grand Park Event Center. Around 1,000 athletes, and an estimated 5,000 spectators will descend upon Westfield.
One of the highlights of this 20-day event is the APP Collegiate Championship, which will be nationally televised by CBS.
Pickleball also brings a positive fiscal impact to Indiana communities. The results of an Indiana University Sports Industry Research Center study tell the story. Related spending in Indiana — including equipment purchases, tournament fees, travel expenses and local spending — reached about $30 million in 2020. The study also highlights the potential for job creation in industries such as sports equipment manufacturing, hospitality and event management.
Clearly, pickleball is a high-powered economic engine that continues to grow in Indiana. Regardless of all the positive economics of the sport, pickleball is an opportunity for friends and family to gather and play a friendly, inexpensive sport.
Jim Merritt served in the Indiana Senate for 30 years before retiring in 2020. This column previously appeared at indianacapitalchronicle.com. Send comments to [email protected].