Pickleball Craze Is Sweeping Across Grounds at Warp Speed

Pickleball Craze Is Sweeping Across Grounds at Warp Speed

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Delaney Stone and Addie Wood were getting antsy. Like a lot of University of Virginia students who returned to Grounds last fall in the midst of the pandemic, much of their time was spent on Zoom teleconferences, studying in small groups or hanging out by themselves in their apartment in order to avoid large gatherings. The roommates thirsted for entertainment or a new activity that could buoy their spirits.

Enter pickleball.

Wood had played the up-and-coming sport with her father while home in Richmond and introduced it to Stone. The pair started playing regularly whenever and wherever they could – mainly on adapted courts at Snyder Tennis Center and Perry-Fishburne Tennis Courts.

How much did Wood and Stone love it?

Well, one day, when all the courts were occupied, they decided to set up a pickleball court … in a parking garage.

That’s when they knew they were really hooked.

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“It was a great balance of competitive athleticism and casual social play, and a safe and effective outlet when most activities were unsafe during quarantine,” Stone, a third-year student from Nellysford, said.

“As someone who is not super-athletic, I loved how approachable the sport is,” said Wood, also a third-year. “The rules are easy to pick up, and it’s easy to progress pretty quickly. It’s also not nearly as physically demanding as tennis or other racquet sports, especially when playing doubles.”

Eventually, Stone and Wood discovered that UVA didn’t have a pickleball club and decided, along with fellow students Eliza Woodfin and Eliza Carr Schmidt, to start their own. Now in its second year, the club – which UVA President Jim Ryan visited last spring – is thriving.

“We were blown away when over 300 people signed up to join the club at the activities fair,” Wood said. “Since the first few weeks [of the semester], the numbers at practice have been around 20 to 30 each day.”

The pickleball craze at UVA mirrors what is happening both in Charlottesville and around the country. According to a recent report by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, there are 4.2 million pickleball players in the United States, with a 21% increase in participants from 2019 to 2020.

Delaney Stone, left, and Addie Wood started a pickleball club with fellow students Eliza Woodfin and Eliza Carr Schmidt that already has more than 300 members. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Last month, the UVA Foundation-owned Boar’s Head Sports Club unveiled four new outdoor pickleball courts to complement the two indoor courts that can be set up in its gymnasium.

Even with lots of rain in the forecast this week, the Snyder and Perry-Fishburne courts have been packed with pickleball players.

“Now that we’re getting back to normal, it’s a great way to spend time outside, stay active and meet new people,” Stone said. “Every time I go to practice, I love watching our members meet people and learn new things about the sport.”

Stone and Wood most certainly enjoyed getting to play with Ryan, who came out for a hit last March.

“President Ryan is crazy good!” Stone said.

“He absolutely smoked us,” Wood added. “He did not lose one match, in fact.”

Pickleball, often described as a combination of badminton, ping-pong and tennis, is played on a hard surface that has much smaller dimensions than a tennis court. It is played with paddles and balls similar to Wiffle balls. Players serve underhanded, the ball has less bounce than in tennis, and there is a 7-foot no-volley zone called “the kitchen” that extends from the net.

Stone and Wood stress that they designed the club to be both casual and inclusive. To that end, the club is free and open to players of all skill levels, and fellow players lend racquets to those who don’t have their own.

“Pickleball is a unique sport, in that it is both easy to pick up and can be challenging when mastered,” Stone said. “You can pick up a paddle for the first time and be playing a match in no time, while on the next court over experienced players may be battling it out.

“Additionally, it isn’t necessarily an extremely physically demanding sport. We joked that we’d picked up an ‘old people sport,’ which does ring true in that you do not have to be in peak physical shape to get out and play. [But] above all else, it’s a ton of fun. Most people who play once stick with it for just that reason.”

Despite the threat of rain, club members played several matches Tuesday. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Stone said the club is in conversations with IM-Rec Sports regarding potential instruction by a faculty member who teaches pickleball classes.

Eventually, Stone and Wood said they would like to see more indoor and outdoor courts made available to students. The pair said they have been contacted by other schools’ pickleball clubs about the possibility of participating in an intercollegiate tournament this fall.

“We want this to both continue to be an opportunity for beginners to improve their game, while growing it to allow experienced players to compete not only against peers at UVA, but also players from other colleges,” Stone said.

For information, visit the club’s Instagram page @pickleballclubatuva, or email Stone at dcs8x@virginia.edu.

Media Contact

Whitelaw Reid

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications