By Natalie Strom
“Get out of the kitchen!” shouts an onlooker at the Marco Island Racquet Center. A comment that may have some confused is actually sound words of wisdom to a fellow Pickleball player.
Pickleball has become one of the fastest growing sports in the country, and on Marco Island. Alex Galiana, Recreation Administrative Supervisor for Marco’s Parks and Recreation Department, can certainly attest to this fact. According to Galiana, the first pickleball court was added to the Marco Island Racquet Center only three years ago. “We were seeing 20 to 25 people showing up at 8:00 AM to play pickleball. With one court, only four people could play at a time.”
With such an increase in demand, two more courts were added only about a month ago. As pickleball plays on a smaller court than tennis, two courts can easily fit onto one tennis court. By adding pickleball court lines inside one of the tennis courts, along with movable nets, pickleball enthusiasts now have three courts to play on. “Instead of four people playing we can have up to twelve people playing at a time,” adds Galiana.
As the sport and courts have grown, The Marco Island Racquet Center now offers a pickleball-only membership for $100 per year. Boasting over 60 pickleball memberships, those with regular memberships are also allowed usage of the courts. Drop-in play costs only $5 per session. With such high demand for court time, Racquet Center member, Des Meneely, began putting together a daily schedule for season. Playing at both 8:00 AM and 3:00 PM, Meneely’s schedule not only allotted time for each player, but also gave people the option between a more laid back pickleball game at 8:00 AM versus more intense games played at the 3:00 PM time slot.
Jodi Pree, an avid tennis player and recent pickleball convert, explains why the sport has grown so quickly on Marco in such a short period of time. “It’s really perfect here because it’s a hybrid of tennis, badminton and ping pong. The rules are simple and all ages can play.” Pree passed by the pickleball courts at the Racquet Center, watching as those involved laughed and carried on. Refusing to think pickleball could be any fun, she was finally coerced by a friend. “And so I tried it,” she continues. “I ended up playing three games that afternoon and I was hooked. From then on I played almost everyday. It’s so much fun and the people are fun to be with, so it becomes a social event as well.”
She explains the social aspect as she sits with about ten other pickleball players next to the permanent pickleball court. As they watch those at play, they talk amongst themselves while intermittently shouting out words of encouragement. “Stay out of the kitchen!” being one common phrase. Referring to the seven foot area that extends from either side of the court, it is also known as the non-volley zone. Players must stay out of the area when returning a ball that is still in mid-air, or that has not bounced on the court yet.
Each game is played to either 11 or 15 points, depending on time. In order to be crowned victor, a team must win by two points. The ball is served underhand and each side must let the ball bounce off the ground before they can hit it. After the ball has bounced once on each side, mid-air play is allowed. These types of rules are designed to allow for all ages to play as well as to allow for more volley time. Unlike other similar sports, pickleball is based upon strategy of ball placement as well as patience rather than brute force.
Don’t let the patience aspect mislead you. Pickleball can be quite a workout. “For fitness, I think it’s just as good as racquetball and better than tennis, maybe,” explains Jayne Rodgers, a pickleball member at the Racquet Center. Pree agrees, adding, “one of the men in our group has lost 15 pounds since November. It’s also a definite mood lifter.”
“We play at 8:00AM and some play at 10:00 and come noon, people still don’t want to go home. They should be worn out but they are just having so much fun,” continues Rodgers. Pree echoes her thoughts, explaining that the 3:00 PM group often plays as hard and as long as they can. “We usually last until 5:00 and then we go to Happy Hour!” The morning group often ends up going to breakfast or lunch together as well.
While the pickleball group at the Racquet Center has certainly grown close, they encourage anyone to come out and bring their paddle. “The beauty of this game is that pickleball players travel with their paddles. So we have a lot of visitors from other states who come in and play while they’re here,” states Rodgers.
Pick up a paddle today and head to the Marco Island Racquet Center at 1275 San Marco Road. For questions about rates and play give them a call at (239) 394-5454. Visit www.pickleball.com to learn more about the sport and even purchase a paddle.