MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — If you go by Lott Park in Daphne any day, just about any time, you’ll hear the sound of pickleball being played.
Pickleball combines aspects of tennis, badminton and ping pong into a sport that’s taking the country, and the Gulf Coast, by storm. And when players talk about the game, one word keeps coming up: addiction.
“I gave the game a try and I’ve been addicted ever since,” said True Nicolson, an official ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association, and the unofficial guru of the game in Mobile.
“I tried it and fell in love with it, and now I’m addicted to the game of pickleball,” said retiree Wayne Mockel, who plays several times a week at Lott Park.
Charlie McDavid is the Director of Sports and Recreation for the City of Daphne. McDavid said a few years ago he couldn’t have possibly imagined having six dedicated pickleball courts at Lott Park with plans to add six more.
In Mobile, there are only a few dedicated outdoor pickleball courts. The hub is indoors at the Via Senior Center. And while there’s no doubt the game is popular among retirees, pickleball players say it is not a 21st-century version of shuffleboard.
“It’s been seen as an old person’s sport but that’s been changing to a much younger crowd,” said Nicolson.
Stacey Anderson, a pickleball instructor in Daphne, agrees it’s a game for everyone.
“I’ve taught people who were 12 years old, and I’ve taught people who are in their 80’s,” said Anderson.
Invented in Washington state almost 60 years ago, the game started picking up steam a decade ago, then exploded during the pandemic when people were looking to get a little exercise, outdoors, and socially distanced. Pickleball is now the fastest-growing sport in the country.
The game uses wiffle balls, an elongated ping-pong paddle and is played on a court about a fourth the size of a tennis court. It seems like a weird combination, but players said there’s just something special about this game.
“We are very competitive on the court and very friendly off it,” said Emily Callaway of Mobile, a longtime tennis player who converted to the game 18 months ago. She now plays five times a week.
Pickleball can be played by two people, but is usually played by four. Doubles play lends to the game’s social aspect.
“It’s very social,” said Hank Hays who plays at Via in Mobile. “There’s always a big crowd here, you’re waiting between games, and so there’s always lots of conversation going on, you’re meeting people, it’s lots of fun.”
Gulf Shores is currently building a complex of 12 outdoor, lighted pickleball courts. They should be ready in December. The Lott Park expansion from six to 12 courts will break ground next month.