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Pickleball is growing in popularity nationally, and Reno is no different

 The Truckee Meadows Pickleball Club plays at Burgess Park in Sparks. Some members are playing the game, holding paddles, while some members stand on the sides of the courts.
Ember Braun/KUNR
The Truckee Meadows Pickleball Club had four games going on Friday, June 9, at Burgess Park in Sparks, Nev.

Pickleball has been the fastest growing sport in the U.S. for the last three years, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

On a recent weekday at Burgess Park in Sparks, members of the Truckee Meadows Pickleball Club had four separate games of pickleball going.

Lyle Mason, one of the founders of the club, played one game, sat out for a few minutes, then joined another game.

Mason has played pickleball since it took off in popularity in the Reno-Sparks area. As he spoke, 16 people waited for their chance to play.

He’s quick to point out the health benefits of the game.

“It’s just something that gives you another opportunity to keep fit, and it’s a social game,” Mason said.

Pickleball combines parts of three different sports. It takes elements from ping pong, tennis and badminton. Players use paddles, often made with polymer and graphite, as well as a ball resembling a wiffleball. The official rules state that the ball must bounce once in each team’s court after a serve.

And depending on who you ask, a game lasts anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.

According to the Trust for Public Land, Reno is the 27th best city for pickleball. This list took into account details like how many pickleball courts there were in relation to a city’s population size.

While there can be courts made specifically for pickleball, many cities use tennis courts with added line so that a court can support both games. These added lines indicate the boundaries of play for pickleball players, because these makeshift courts are smaller than tennis courts.

TMPC has mainly focused on fundraising for new courts and maintaining already established courts around the Reno-Sparks area. However, they began working with other organizations to maintain funding for new pickleball courts.

The number of members in Reno has been rapidly growing, said TMPC president, Paul Kocher.

“It’s just been phenomenal. We had about 350 members in our club, now we have 850,” Kocher said.

TMPC currently has a partnership with Jam On It - a coaching and sports club center. They have 22 pickleball courts located in the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.

Jam On It board president Clint Welch talked with people as they set up more courts at the convention center.

The game is appealing to older individuals because of the social aspect, Welch said. And, it’s less strenuous than other sports such as tennis. Jam On It currently has members who are in their 90s, he said.

“It’s a great workout without having the concern of too many serious injuries,” Welch said.

The only concern with the growing number of pickleball players in Reno is the number of courts available.

“You go to some of the public courts, and you have 20 or 30 people waiting, you might need to sit out and wait 3 or 4 rounds. There are a lot of outdoor courts, but in winter there’s very limited opportunities,” Welch said.

However, places like the convention center offer an alternative to playing outside, when the weather doesn’t permit.

Organizations like Senior Care Plus, a Medicare Advantage organization run by Hometown Health, are funding places like the convention center pickleball courts.

Mason would like to see casinos get involved in building pickleball courts. It could also be a way to attract more tourists to Reno, he said.

Other places, like resorts, have already capitalized on this idea.

The game has had its own national association since 1984, previously named the United States Amateur Pickleball Association. The nonprofit organization, now called USA Pickleball, has provided rules, regulations, and equipment to some clubs.

The sport’s fame continued to grow during COVID, said Melissa Zhang, the director of communications and content for USA Pickleball. This was mainly due to players being able to stay six feet apart during games, she said.

Back at Burgess Park, Kocher was hopeful for the growth of the sport internationally.

“It’s all over the world, if we can get it in 70 countries, then it can become an Olympic sport,” he said.

KUNR's Ember Braun is a student at the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Ember Braun is a former student reporter at KUNR Public Radio.