It had to make Cindy Love, the Marco YMCA’s CEO, feel good to walk out to her brand new 9-court pickleball facility Friday afternoon and see pickleball players everywhere. One couple was even sitting on the roof of their car to get a better view of the action.
The Johnny Pickleball Show was in town and young pickleball impresario Jonathon Andrews had Marco’s pickleball zealots eating from his hand.
“I think this is an amazing crowd for our first event,” an enthused Cindy Love said. “There’s still a lot of people who don’t know about this facility.”
A mixture of Harlem Globetrotters-style tricks and pickleball evangelism, Johnny Pickleball dazzled the crowd by peppering his game with an array of trick shots and good-natured sparring with his teammates and opponents. He was equally adept on the microphone, engaging his willing audience, around 100-strong, with humor and pickleball tidbits.
The crowd was even gobbling up an array of Johnny Pickleball items, like sweatshirts, caps and wristbands.
Like the basketball-playing Globetrotters, Johnny Pickleball went behind his back, between his legs and often looked away from where he was hitting the pickleball. Johnny Pickleball trotted out a cast of players that included the Y’s pickleball pro, Mae Brown.
“This event was absolutely fantastic,” Andrews said during the ladies’ doubles part of the show. “The Johnny Pickleball Show has been traveling around the country. I just have the luxury of being here at the Marco Island YMCA. It’s always great to be at the YMCA, as they keep opening up pickleball facilities—and doing it in a top-notch fashion. They’re doing big things.”
The Y’s commitment to pickleball includes nine state-of-the-art, purpose-built cushioned pickleball courts, each separated from the others by fencing to ensure uninterrupted play. LED lighting is available for night and early morning play.
“The courts are great,” Andrews gushed, “they play great. The lights are absolutely wonderful.”
Andrews is touring the country spreading the word about pickleball—the country’s fastest-growing sport.
“The goal of the Johnny Pickleball show is keeping grassroots interest in pickleball alive,” Andrews explained. “I travel around the country focusing on players who maybe don’t get a chance to travel but are amazing players. I like to highlight those players and venues all over the country—those pockets. I like to showcase those players and facilities—as well as the top players as well. Making pickleball more of a spectator sport.”
Love, like Y directors across the country, is doing her best to deal with declining membership brought on by the COVID pandemic. She applauds her board of directors for making a bold move by moving forward with the pickleball facility.
“It’s been an amazing journey this past year with the pandemic,” Love said. “Trying to remain viable and moving things forward. With the support of the Y board, we were able to go ahead and get this pickleball project complete. Which is an amazing feat because this pandemic has hit us hard, of course. We’re looking forward to the pickleball community growing and bringing more tournaments here. We’ve got a great team, with the pickleball teachers we have—and our leadership with Roberto Saad.
“Part of this whole thing is that people haven’t been able to be social. This is a way to be outside and be social.”
Love said the Y currently has between 400 and 500 tennis players. She estimates that there are currently 100 pickleball players. She sees pickleball as the ultimate family sport.
“We’re looking forward to increasing the play with the families,” Love said. “What’s really cool is at night when I leave there’s a couple of families out here playing with their kids. So it’s a great family time. You can play with the little guys, too. With tennis, you have to be more skilled. Tennis is a great sport too, but pickleball’s great for the whole family—all ages. We’re really excited. Because that’s part of the Y’s mission, to have a healthy body, mind and spirit for all ages, for all income levels, for all demographics. This is just another piece of that. It’s awesome.”
The Y has made a significant investment in their pickleball facilities.
“They were right around $600,000,” Love said. “We still need shade and benches. We’re going to do that with naming opportunities. As people donate money to name some of those items, it will make it even more special out here. It’s really upscale.”
The Pickleball Expansion Campaign includes naming opportunities, ranging from naming the entire complex ($300,000), to naming a court ($25,000), a bench ($2,000) or a paver ($500).
The Y doesn’t offer separate memberships for pickleball—or for any of their myriad programs.
“The Y is an inclusive organization,” Love stresses. “We don’t have separate memberships for every little thing we do. Once you’re a member, you have access to everything. It’s a pretty good deal for everything you get here. Our goal is that we know as a Y organization nationally, if you just come for swimming, and we’re able to get you into fitness. Or to volunteer, you’re going to get more connected to your community through the Y and all the projects that we do that aren’t visible. We never want to exclude anybody from those opportunities. We want you to be more a part of a family, more than a club or organization.
“There’s a lot of people—even with tennis—that have a membership everywhere on the island… the Island Country Club, the city, and here. We think that’s going to happen as well with pickleball.”