On Monday I went to the downtown tennis courts to take advantage of the holiday and burn off all the burgers, hot dogs and desserts I had on the Fourth of July.

When I walked into the tennis center I couldn’t believe the number of people who were there to play pickleball. There seemed to be about 30 people on two courts. Now those two courts, if used for tennis, could AT MOST hold eight players. But since pickeball courts are smaller, you can have lots more people on the same amount of space.

In addition to all those people playing, there were another 20 milling about outside the courts waiting to play.

It was great to see so many people turn out for what I learned was just a fun, social pickleball mixer.

Now I should point out here that I don’t play pickleball, have never played pickleball and I don’t understand it or its rules. But for a while now it seems like EVERYONE has taken to pickleball.

First I guess I should explain, in case anyone doesn’t know, that pickleball is a paddleball sport that combines elements of badminton, table tennis and tennis. At first I thought it was an “old folks” game but now I see people of all ages and athletic abilities playing.

As a tennis player, I have seen many of my good friends (some very good tennis players) completely abandon the sport for pickleball. Apparently it’s so addictive that if you try it once, you’ll be hooked forever. Just like meth. So understandably, I’ve been afraid to try it.

But seeing all those people (of different ages, abilities and fitness levels) out at the courts playing together was wonderful. It made me happy to think that there was yet ANOTHER way for Rome and Floyd County residents to get outside, enjoy the outdoors, socialize and get some exercise.

Even though I’ve never played, and even though the sport of pickleball has robbed me of many of my good friends, I guess I was hoping to persuade anyone out there who has never tried it to give it a shot.

To help you out, I’ve compiled a short list of all the things I know about pickleball. Here they are:

1. Pickleball is sort of a cult. Not unlike Scientology and Crossfit. Once you’re in it, you have to talk about it all the time, tell people it’s the greatest thing in the world and try to get as many people as possible to get into it. “It’ll change your life,” you’ll say to people. “You’ll never want to play anything else again.”

2. Anyone and everyone can play pickleball. Trust me, I’ve seen people you wouldn’t believe might be good at sports excel at pickleball. I guess it’s the small size of the court and the fact that you use a whiffle ball and a wooden paddle that makes it so easy for almost anyone to maneuver around the court. It seems like something anybody could learn and enjoy.

3. Everyone who plays pickleball has to wear some sort of knee brace or other injury preventative sleeve. At least from what I’ve seen. Maybe I just have injury-prone friends.

4. Above all else, if you play pickleball and someone asks you about it, the first thing you’re required by law to say is: “You know, it’s the fastest growing sport in America.” Every single person I’ve ever talked to about pickleball has made sure to mention to me that it’s the fastest growing sport in America. I haven’t seen the numbers to back up this claim but since everyone says it, it must be true. And they’ve been saying it for about 10 years so I guess pickleball just keeps growing and growing at a faster and faster pace. Who knew.

5. After a pickleball game (or match, I’m not sure what you call it) you must go to a nearby restaurant with your pickleball friends and enjoy a meal and cocktails while discussing pickleball. If necessary, y’all must then return to the pickleball court to settle any disputes that might have arisen during the meal.

6. Once you start playing pickleball, you’re required to invite at least 50 of your friends to try the sport. Even if they say they’re not interested. If you don’t do this, all the other pickleball people will shun you for not doing your part to continue making pickleball — all together now — THE FASTEST GROWING SPORT IN AMERICA.

I say all this stuff in a sarcastic way but I’m serious when I say that it does my heart good to see so many people taking up and enjoying a game. I see people in their 20s and people in their 70s playing on the same courts together and having a great time.

And it’s wonderful that in our own community, the powers that be have seen fit to dedicate some of our tennis courts to be designated pickleball courts so the sport can grow and thrive in Rome and Floyd County.

If you have the chance, go watch some pickleball. I know that the Thornton Center in Armuchee is one place people play frequently and the downtown tennis courts as well.

It brings me joy to see my fellow Romans getting outside and enjoying any physical activity. Pick up a paddle and see if it’s the sport for you. Who knows you could be the latest person to keep pickleball ... The fastest growing sport in America. I guess I’ve drunk the kool-aid.

Severo Avila is Features Editor for the Rome News-Tribune.

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