From the Gilbreath Center in Lindale to the Thornton Recreation Center in Armuchee, players of all ages and ability levels are loving the sport of Pickleball in Rome.
The sport, a cross between ping pong, badminton, and tennis, was invented in 1965 and in recent years has skyrocketed in popularity across the country.
Rome is no exception. With the number of players rising steadily over the past couple years, many local tennis courts have been converted or have been marked off for use as pickleball courts.
According to pickleball court data provider Pickleheads, there are 10,320 pickleball facilities nation-wide. And 315 of those are in Georgia.
Rome residents have access to pickleball at several locations. The Downtown Racquet Center features dedicated pickleball courts but other locations include the Thornton Recreation Center, Etowah Park tennis courts, Tolbert Park Tennis, The Gilbreath Recreation Center and Lawrence Preserve.
Logan Yerbey has been playing pickleball for seven years and usually plays on the courts at Lawrence Preserve.
“I love pickleball because it’s a sport with a community that values socialization and fun over competition,” he said.
Yerbey plays once or twice a week and rarely plays in tournaments, preferring pickup games locally with friends.
Jamie Bennett comes to pickleball after years of being an accomplished tennis player. She’s been playing pickleball for three years and said, like Yerbey, she enjoys the social aspect of the sport.
“You get to play a lot of games with many different people,” said Bennett, whose husband and daughter also play. “I play a the downtown courts and at Lawrence Preserve two to three times a week. I don’t travel to play pickleball but when I do travel, I usually look for pickleball courts and try to play wherever I am.”
Although many people initially believed the sport to be enjoyable only for seniors, that mentality has changed completely as pickleball tournaments and competitions on television show that at its highest levels, the game can be fast and furious, requiring speed and athleticism.
Andy Kight has been playing for two years. He said the social aspect and camaraderie of the sport is what he finds most enjoyable.
“And the matches are fast paced so they don’t last hours,” he said.
He plays about three tournaments a year and may travel outside of Rome to compete.
Eddie Stokes was leaving for Punta Gorda, Florida to play pickleball when the Rome News-Tribune called for an interview.
Three years ago he watched an indoor pickleball tournament in Rome and liked it so much that he immediately went home to order a paddle and balls to begin learning the game.
“All I really had to learn was how to keep score,” he said. “As a tennis player I already knew the basics of hitting the ball. I’d go to the Thornton Center and watch other people play.”
Three years later and Stokes has medaled in over 40 pickleball tournaments. He’s traveled to Hilton Head, South Carolina and Gulf Shores, Alabama to compete and says he and his wife Tesha, who also plays, love how fun and social the game is.
“There are tournaments almost every weekend within driving distance of Rome,” Stokes said. “And it’s very seldom now to go somewhere and they don’t have dedicated pickleball courts. We used to always play on tennis courts but now that the sport has grown so much, almost everywhere has pickleball courts.”
He encourages anyone with an interest to try the game.
“It’s easier to learn than tennis,” he said. “I think it’s easier for beginners to control the paddle than a tennis racquet. I love tennis and still play, but at the level my wife and I play pickleball, it’s more social than competitive. It’s a lot of fun and people of all ages and ability levels can enjoy it.”
The Rome Tennis Center at Berry College offers a variety of programming for pickleball players and those hoping to learn the game. They offer Pickleball 101 and 201 classes as well as open play, leagues, ladders and round robin play.
“We are very excited about the growth of pickleball in Rome and our Downtown Racquet Center,” said Colt Gaston, General Manager of the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College and the Downtown Racquet Center. “We have enjoyed seeing players come from neighboring cities to Rome to play in our ladder league on Monday nights at 5:30 p.m. and other fun options for play including our round robin on Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. and our open play on Friday nights at 5:30 p.m. for all levels. We also offer private lessons and fun events monthly.”
For more details, visit rometenniscenter.com.