Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is in the midst of a pickleball epidemic. Fighting for parking spots near courts and seeing lines of over 60 people waiting patiently for a place on the court is commonplace – even on weekday mornings.
“It’s pretty typical,” Anna Marino, the pickleball director for the city’s Recreation and Parks Department, tells Scott Sexton of the Winston-Salem Journal.
People come out to play all year round, whatever the weather, reflecting the more than evident surge in demand. The city has had to respond to match this growing demand, swiftly converting tennis courts into pickleball spaces as a permanent transition or by setting up temporary nets.
“There’s always people looking to play,” says Marino, who coordinates open play at the parks around the city. “Some of them are definitely hardcore. I’ve seen (players) out with leaf blowers trying to dry the courts the morning after it rains.”
She adds significantly, “It’s an inclusive sport. My mom has never been an athlete, and she plays.”
Two Dedicated Courts For Next Year
Winston-Salem’s Recreation and Parks Department currently has 10 courts accommodating tennis and pickleball, alongside three exclusively dedicated to pickleball. Department Director William Royston confirmed plans to incorporate two additional pickleball-only courts next year.
Moreover, every indoor gym featuring a wooden floor within city recreational centers has been appropriately marked to facilitate pickleball play. Serve First Racquet Sports, managing the Joe White Tennis Center at Hanes Park, has also signaled a keen interest in including pickleball facilities.
“In terms of numbers, pickleball is open play, and it runs throughout the year, so it is one of our larger adult programs with one of the largest attendances,” Royston said.
The City of Winston-Salem Recreation and Parks Department holds open-play events three times a week at the Old Town Park.
Reminiscent Of Previous Racket-Sport Crazes
Pickleball’s ascent is somewhat reminiscent of the tennis craze of the 1970s and the subsequent surge in racquetball during the 80s. Back then, cities, towns, and, in the case of racquetball, private enterprises struggled to construct courts swiftly enough.
However, the sports’ immense popularity faded into relative obscurity – extremely quickly in the case of racquetball.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Marino said. “There are so many younger people playing now. I’ve seen 8-year-olds playing with their parents. If it was just older people, you’d have to think it might fade away.”
“It’s Just Fun”
Rich Gaydos plays a surprising three to four times a week at various open play parks around the county.
“Joanie Moser Park (a county facility) has 80 people most days,” he says.
He realizes that it sounds like a lot, but Gaydos has a simple answer: “It’s just fun,” he says before adding, “There’s just a lot of nice people.
“With everything else going on in the world these days, we need more things like this. Not less.”
Gaydos started playing six years ago and loved it so much he’d take his paddle with him when he was on the road on business. Due to the incredibly social aspect of the game, it’s easy to find open-play
“I certainly didn’t know anything about it when I started playing,” he said. “I thought it was just a sport for older people. Now there are pros making six figures playing.”
Annual Thanksgiving Tournament
Winston-Salem also hosts an annual Thanksgiving tournament.
“I played in that last year,” says Gaydos. “My partner got the gift card. I could have used that. We were traveling to visit relatives. And I got a 25-pound turkey.”
A final word from Gaydos sums up pickleball in a nutshell:
“It’s like golf,” he says. “You’re fine until you start thinking. Then you’re in trouble.”
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