Pickleball bounces into the Swannanoa Valley

Libba Fairleigh
Special To The Black Mountain News

Zero Zero Start. Is this the beginning of a race somewhere?  No, this is beginning call for a new round of Pickleball, an increasingly popular sport in the Swannanoa Valley. 

Carolyn Johnson of Black Mountain and Fran Thigpen of Swannanoa were among the first to introduce the game to the Valley last summer and players were at the courts for two hours a day, two days a week.

From left to right: Pat Reichenbach, William Brown, Tom Mills and Kevin O'Conner following their championship pickleball match at Owen Middle School. Brown and Mills won the championship and received jars of hot pepper pickles.

Fast forward to the summer of 2018 and athletes of all levels now play up to three hours a day, three days a week.

What is Pickleball? It is a fun, fast game developed during the summer of 1965 in Washington State by Joel Pritchard, later a Lieutenant Governor, to entertain his bored children. 

There is no truth to the speculation that the name  “Pickleball” was in honor of the family dog, Pickles, but it makes for a good story.

Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of table tennis, tennis and badminton. Played with paddles made of wood or composite materials and a polymer ball similar to a Wiffle Ball, players of all ages and skill levels enjoy the thrill of the hit. 

While the game is easy for beginners to learn and the rules are simple, it can quickly develop into a quick, fast-paced and competitive game. Four people play a match to 11 points.

Players can play on designated Pickleball courts or on converted tennis and basketball courts.

Pickleball was played at Cragmont Free-Will Baptist Assembly and Owen Middle School. Cragmont was unavailable during the summer while camps were in session. For three delightful weeks during August, Cragmont had no campers and Owen had no students, allowing over 40 Pickleball participants the use of six courts.

To celebrate the fun of the sport, the outdoor group enjoyed an impromptu tournament. Using a 12-player, three-court round-robin format each of the players played five games with someone different. William Brown and Tom Mills challenged Kevin O’Connor and Pat Reichenbach for the championship. Brown and Mills emerged victorious and were each awarded a jar of hot pepper pickles.

The Valley Dinkers (dinking is one of the most important shots in Pickleball) hope to have their own courts one day, but until then, players can be found on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 9 a.m. - noon, at Craigmont Assembly on North Fork. Newcomers and beginners are encouraged to attend the training sessions that are offered throughout the year.

Sherry Brown expressed the sentiments of all when she wrote, “The game is so much fun," said Sherry Brown. "But I am also especially grateful to have met and continue to meet all of you folks who ‘pickle’ with me.”