Nearly 100 people attend camp for fast-growing sport

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The hollow sound of pickleballs bouncing off the courts at the Patricia Cornwell Tennis Center echoed through Montreat last week during the Suncoast Pickleball Boot Camp.

The event, which brought top professional instructors and players from the sport to the Montreat Conference Center, was a success according to organizer Russell Elefterion.

"This is a boot camp for players rated 3.5 and above," Elefterion said. "This is the first boot camp I've done, and it sold out in a month."

The camp attracted 84 players and seven pros, attesting to the sport's growing popularity.

"Many people say it's the fastest growing sport in the world and there are millions of people playing," Elefterion said.

Pickleball, played with a racquet and a ball similar to a Wiffle ball, combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis. It can be played with two, three or four players. The Black Mountain Recreation and Parks Department offers indoor court time from 10 a.m.-noon Thursdays at Carver Community Center.

The relatively small dimensions of the court (20 by 44 feet) do not require much running, making the sport popular with seniors. As pickleball gains popularity, younger people have started playing, Elefterion said.

Elefterion was introduced to the sport while working with seniors for the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation department in Tampa, Florida.

"I was teaching dancing, and some of the seniors heard about the game," he said. "I have a tennis background, so I started looking into it. And I really enjoyed it."

Elefterion started the Suncoast Pickleball Association in an effort to introduce the sport to as many people as possible. The organization currently organizes tournaments and clinics, mainly in central Florida. Montreat would be an ideal location for a boot camp, Elefterion, a part-time Black Mountain resident, concluded.

"The (Montreat) Conference Center has been great," he said. "We've done drills every day from 9-10:30 a.m. From 10:30 a.m. until noon, players play against the pros. The pros critique them and work on skill development, which is something that's pretty neat. Then it's lunch and the same format in the afternoon."

Participating in the boot camp were players like Kyle Yate, who at 21 was the youngest pro pickleball player. Instructor Phil Bagley has won several doubles championships in the USA Pickleball Association. Elefterion said the camp exceeded his expectations.

"I thought I had hit a home run with this boot camp," he said. "I mentioned that to a couple of people the other day and they said 'It's not a home run, it's a grand slam.'"

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