Southside Virginia embraces pickleball as sport grows in popularity locally

PRINCE GEORGE – Prince George and Dinwiddie Counties have joined a growing list of localities around the state and the country in participating in and promoting America’s fastest-growing sport, pickleball.

If you have never heard of this sport, not to worry, you will soon—because it’s catching on and findings its way into rec centers and gymnasiums around the area, including in Prince George County as dozens came out to the Central Wellness Center on Route 156 to take part in a pickleball clinic event last Saturday.

“I first heard the term pickleball in the fall of 2015, but the game got its start way back in 1965,” Jared Dieffenbach, Pickleball Ambassador for Prince George, remarked. “When I first started asking around about pickleball, I couldn’t find anyone who knew about the game. Luckily, while kayaking on the Appomattox River with a friend one day, I asked if he’d ever heard of pickleball. He said that he had, and he added that he had been invited to a beginner’s lesson at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Midlothian. I went with him on that Friday, November 13th, 2015, and I’ve been playing ever since.”

The sport of pickleball had something of an odd beginning. Three men, Washington State Congressman Joel Pritchard, along with his two friends, Barney McCallum, and Bill Bell, returned to Pritchard’s Bainbridge Island home near Seattle after a morning round of golf. When they arrived, they found that their kids were bored and complaining that they had nothing to do. There was a badminton court on Pritchard’s property, but they couldn’t find the birdies or rackets. What they did have were ping-pong paddles and a wiffle ball.

Making do with what they had, they lowered the badminton net and began hitting the ball back-and-forth over the net, similar to playing doubles tennis. They all loved playing, and soon the adults began playing the game every day. The rules eventually evolved and wooden paddles were made that are slightly larger than a ping-pong paddle. There are a couple of versions of how the game was named, but the favorite and most widely-accepted one is that Pritchard’s cockapoo dog, Pickles, would grab and run with any ball hit in his direction, which then became “Pickle’s ball.”

Nowadays, the game of pickleball is said to be the fastest-growing sport in the U.S, with a number of local, regional, and national tournaments cropping up.

The Minto US Open Pickleball Championships is a world-class international competition that is coming to Naples, Florida from April 27 to May 4 of this year. Last year, 2,000 players from 47 states and 20 countries battled it out for seven days on 50 courts.

There are even efforts to make pickleball an Olympic sport. In Virginia’s Senior Games, pickleball holds the top spot for player participation.

Residents from all around Central Virginia attended Saturday’s clinic at the Central Wellness Center. Attendees were instructed in the proper play of pickleball by Dieffenbach and other sports enthusiasts. Some found the sport easier than others, some found it somewhat awkward, but everyone seemed to have a great deal of fun. Many of the attendees indicated they would continue to learn and play the sport.

“In March of 2018, I applied for, and was appointed as the Pickleball Ambassador for Prince George County,” Dieffenbach said. “I work closely with the Prince George County and Dinwiddie Parks and Recreation Directors, who are very supportive in efforts to grow the sport. Tennis courts can be modified with blended lines and nets lowered 2-inches to play pickleball. We play inside most Tuesdays and Fridays, from 9 a.m. to noon, at the Prince George Central Wellness Center, 11023 Prince George Drive in Disputanta. Pickleball is also played on Wednesday evenings, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Robert and Betty Ragsdale Community Center, 20916 Old School Road in McKenney. There are two indoor courts at each of these facilities, and we normally have between 12 to 18 players during those playing hours.”

The Pickleball Club of Chesterfield County has a very active and growing pickleball program with more than 900 members. There are eight outdoor courts at Rockwood Park, six at Harry Daniel Park, and they will soon open 12 additional outdoor courts at the Chesterfield Career and Technical Center, located on Hull Street, which is scheduled to become a major tournament complex.

“It’s an easy game to learn, and a whole lot of fun to play,” Dieffenbach explained. “It’s very social, with a lot of player interaction, since most people play doubles on a court about half the size of a tennis court. So far, I’ve played games with players from age 13 to age 86, and everyone was good and very competitive. The game attracts a lot of former and current tennis, ping-pong, and racquetball players. I have played some tennis and quite a lot of racquetball in my younger days, and I am still playing some racquetball now, but pickleball has become my favorite sport.”

If you are interested in obtaining additional information on this increasingly-popular, and incredibly fun sport, you can contact Jared Dieffenbach by email at dieffenba@yahoo.com, or by telephone at (804) 704-0374.

You may also contact Keith Rotzoll, Director, Prince George Parks, and Recreation, by telephone at (804) 458-6164, or by email at krotzoll@princegeorgecountyva.gov.

For those living in Dinwiddie, you can contact the county’s recreation department at 804-732-1100.

By: Sherry Williams Kidd | Twitter: @DinwiddieMonitr
Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing