Greater Reading embraces America's fastest growing sport
By Keith Stamm, Director of Workforce Development, GRCA
Have you heard of pickleball? It is no surprise if you haven’t as the sport recently started becoming popular. Pickleball currently is America’s fastest growing sport that grew to 4.8 million players in the United States in 2021, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Pickleball is a sport for all ages and abilities with the current average age around 38 years old and the fastest growing segment of players under 24 years old.
The game is a mix between tennis, badminton and ping pong. The ball has circular holes in it, while the paddle is a little bigger than a table tennis paddle. The court is the same size as a double’s badminton court or roughly a third of the size of a tennis court. Pickleball can be played one-on-one or two-on-two. Because of the simplicity of the game, players of all ages and abilities can enjoy this fast-growing sport while choosing the intensity level that works best for them.
In addition to the accessibility and the ease of playing this game, there is also a social aspect and sense of community with players as well. There are several locations throughout the Greater Reading area that have pickleball courts and more are in the planning stages. In fact, there are even some indoor courts as well. West Reading boasts 10 relatively new pickleball courts that officially opened in July, 2021. This renovated site previously had four aging tennis courts on it.
“We had four unused courts, and we have a bunch of tennis courts next door in Wyomissing,” said Pat Shields, owner, and CEO of Fromuth Racquet Sports.
According to Kate Martinez, Marketing & Graphic Design Manager at Fromuth, the funding for this project came from Shields and his wife, Meg.
“The goal of this was to take these underused courts and build something that is going to bring people to the community. The courts are free and open to the public and the goal has always been inclusivity and open to everyone,” said Martinez.
The idea is to be family friendly and a place to come learn and have fun. In addition to the new pickleball courts, the basketball courts also were renovated.
The West Reading Pickleball Association oversees the courts. Its volunteers not only promote activities to foster the game, but also take care of the upkeep of the facility. The association started offering clinics and lessons for people that want to learn more about the game. Ticketed events such as the Fromuth Pickleball Classic go towards the continued upkeep and maintenance of the courts in hopes that the pickleball association can be self-sustaining.
Bobby Keith, Pickleball Brand Manager at Fromuth, said it’s not surprising the sport has grown in popularity.
“It’s accessible. You don’t need a racket-sport background and can pick it up quickly. It has given people a new competitive feeling. You can actively see yourself getting better each time you play. And with people coming out of Covid, it was a way to be social and connect with others. The pickleball community is very welcoming and offers newcomers introductions and guidance to the fundamentals of the game,” said Keith.
The minimum equipment needed to get started would be a basic racket and balls for about $50. However, Keith also recommends court shoes, since running shoes are designed to go north/south whereas in pickleball your movement will be more east/west. With increased competitiveness and intensity, it’s easy to turn an ankle without the proper shoes.