Players of all ages gathered Tuesday — National Pickleball Day — to participate in “Pickleball with the Pros,” a fundraiser that welcomed three top-ranked pickleball athletes from the D.C. Pickleball Team in an exhibition setting.
Professional Pickleballers Riley Newman and twins Jackie and Jade Kawamoto, along with world-ranked senior pros Forrest Bankston and Scott Nilson, arrived at the Bethesda YMCA to play some games and pose for pictures with attendees.
The fundraiser, with tickets ranging from $100 to $199, aimed to raise money for the renovation of Bethesda YMCA’s outdoor courts, court manager Carlo Impeduglia said.
With the funds, the YMCA plans to install six dedicated pickleball courts, instead of the “blended court” set-up they have currently, which overlays pickleball lines onto pre-existing tennis courts.
“We have 14 pickleball courts across all five tennis courts, so tennis players could still play tennis and still enjoy that lifelong sport and pickleball can also coexist,” Impeduglia said.
Depending on the set-up, you can fit anywhere from one to four pickleball courts on a tennis court, as they are 20 feet wide and 44 feet long, and a standard tennis court is 60 feet wide and 120 feet long.
However, the sheer popularity of pickleball has caused the push for a separate playing space, Impeduglia said.
Two years ago, the Bethesda YMCA kicked off its pickleball program. Now, YMCA staff say they average 100 drop-in pickleball players a day, who can’t seem to get enough of the fastest-growing sport in the U.S.
Kristen Larrick, the program’s co-founder, said it has “exploded” since its inception.
Now, there’s around 2,000 pickleball players in the membership system, Larrick said.
To reach their $50,000 renovation goal, the YMCA auctioned off a signed pickleball paddle and a spot in the exhibition match with Newman and the Kawamotos. The highest bid was $1,000, from Shawn Gundrum.
Pickleball instructor Stephen Ross said his favorite thing about pickleball is the way it brings people together.
“We have fun here, that’s the one thing I come for,” Ross said, adding that it’s a social sport at its core.
Deborah Kramer from Olney said she’s been bit by the pickleball bug.
“Once you get into the sport, you just meet more groups of people who love it,” Kramer said, who now plays pickleball in several places across the county, the Bethesda YMCA included.
Ross said pickleball has elements of table tennis, racquetball/tennis and chess.
“There’s a level of strategy that’s more sophisticated than tennis,” said Ross, a former tennis player who laughed at the notion of returning to the tennis arena. “Hell no!”
The Bethesda YMCA was one of the first pickleball programs in the county according to Impeduglia and hopes to continue to provide a space for people to learn the sport.
“We’re definitely filling a void in terms of providing dedicated courts,” Impeduglia said.