Nashville, TN, has some colorful characters, and some have found their way into the local pickleball scene. Although their larger-than-life personalities have created a real buzz and popularity around the game, they know the town still lacks the right number of suitable courts.
The Enjoyment Factor
Pickleball’s problem has never been the enjoyment factor, and, as Stephanie Lane, the undisputed “Queen of Nashville Pickleball,” says, “The social component of the game doesn’t hurt either.”
“It’s just so much more welcoming and fun. And you keep improving each time you get out there – one dink at a time.”
Lane’s introduction to the sport occurred at Lipscomb University in the late 1980s when her tennis coach organized pickleball matches for the team on rainy days. Since then, she has become a highly esteemed instructor and achieved national recognition as a pickleball medalist.
Billy McGehee, affectionately known as “King Pickle,” relocated to Nashville following Lane’s influence. His arrival coincided with the city’s first pickleball festival, which was held at the Nashville Fairgrounds.
“The creation of this Great American Music City Pickleball Fest was ‘Alright; we’ll try it once.’ Well, the people came out by the hundreds – because it is to promote the sport of pickleball but (also) to showcase a terrible need to build courts (in Nashville) for the new wave of players that are coming. We’re seeing only 10% of what’s coming.”
Chattanooga resident Jim Miller started playing when his wife passed away from cancer early last year. Miller said he was just curious to find out what the popping sound was he kept hearing while out walking. Before he knew it, players had handed him a paddle, and he was involved in a game!
Come out and play with us! 6 full courts at the Williamson County Rec Center in Franklin, TN. Monday’s 6-9 PM pic.twitter.com/QaCoL7yZG4— Pickleball Nashville (@PBallNashville) July 26, 2016
“And that’s what I’ve loved about it. It was kind of my grief therapy,” Miller said. “Because here I was living by myself going through all this grief and all these people, they just picked me up. It’s just been a wonderful blessing.”
Michael Smits works as a pickleball instructor and community advocate in Davidson County. He first came across pickleball at the Hot Chicken Festival held in Nashville in 2019.
“I remembered playing when I was in high school gym class, so we decided to give it a go and ended up finding a community center that had open play,” Smits said. “We became addicted pretty fast.”
He believes one of the reasons for the sport’s popularity is that it caters to all ages. The average age of a pickleball player used to be 55 years old, now, it’s 34, according to recent research from the APP.
“I feel like pickleball, when it first started, everyone was like, ‘Oh, it’s a sport for older people,’ which may be the case on how it originally started, but it’s become a lot bigger of a sport for younger people,” Smits said.
Pickleball’s Accessibility To Kids
However, he feels the major factor behind its explosion is its accessibility to kids:
“Pickleball comes along, and it’s a smaller court, a shorter paddle, and a slower ball,” Bedwell said. “As a result, children can engage in extended rallies and have a much greater satisfaction from the game from the beginning.”
He is also working hard to get Tennessee firmly on the pickleball map and seems to be getting it right. The inaugural Tennessee Junior Pickleball Open is due to take place in Memphis in the fall, and a state grant will go some way to achieving Bedwell’s ultimate goal: making pickleball a varsity sport.
He adds, “About three weeks ago, I got an email from a woman who works for the Department of Health, saying, ‘Hey, would you mind receiving a grant to teach pickleball in Carroll County, Tennessee? I had to think about it for about two nanoseconds to say yes.”
However, Tennessee’s biggest headache is the scarcity of courts in the face of the rising demand. Franklin and other neighboring cities, such as Hendersonville and Murfreesboro, already have dedicated public pickleball courts, but none are in Davidson County.
Back to Stephanie Lane: “We don’t have facilities. There’s no place for people to gather. To have games, you have to try to find tennis courts, mark them off, bring a portable mat and a bag, and set them up. So, what if you don’t have a net?”
Smits and Lane said they’ve offered to raise money to assist in developing courts by organizing a fundraising tournament or renovating unused tennis courts. They are still awaiting a response from the authorities.
Read more about Nashville’s pickleball connection in this great article about Rockin’ Rich Lynch, independent recording artist.
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?