Pickleball has chance to grow in Miss-Lou

Published 10:00 am Saturday, March 27, 2021

Pickleballs popped off of paddles in the gym of Vidalia First Baptist Church as Irene Young explained the concept of the game that is like tennis, table tennis and badminton rolled into one.

Young said she started playing pickleball at the church three years ago and is the director of pickleball at the church. From 5:30 to 6:30 on Tuesdays beginners are welcome to come try out the sport and practice at the Church at 100 N Hickory Street.

There is a cost of $2 a person, which goes towards missions and supplies, she said. United States Pickleball Ambassadors for Adams County Jennifer Harp and Frankie Spence were both at the church to play pickleball on Tuesday night.

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“The average pickleball player is 61,” Harp said. “The young people are starting to get into it. It is one of the fastest growing sports in the nation. We just have to get it going here more.”

Harp said as a pickleball ambassador she is trying to bring new players into the game while also providing a list of places people can go to play pickleball. The game offers a chance for recreation to those who may not be very mobile, she said.

The courts are smaller and the balls, which are like a wiffleball, do not travel as fast as a tennis ball does, she said. Natchez tennis program manager Johnny Wahlborg said pickleball is a game with a smaller learning curve than tennis.

He said he has studied the business of pickleball for the past three to four years. He said he talks with his contacts in the business at Stone Creek in Covington, Louisiana, and the Billy McGee Wild World of Pickleball in Fort Myers, Florida to get an idea of how to run a successful program. Pickleball has a lot of potential for success, he said.

“We plan on turning Duncan Park into a tennis and pickleball mecca,” Wahlborg said. “There is so much opportunity for those sports as far as economic impact and quality of life for the residents. For pickleball, there is not a curve. You can walk out and start playing.”

Having the opportunity for both tennis and pickleball is important,

he said. Spence will be the director of tennis and pickleball at Duncan Park, Wahlborg said. He wants to build enough courts to have both pickleball and tennis to be played at the same time.

Creating economic impact for the city is another one of his missions, he said. Hosting tournaments for both pickleball and tennis will bring people into Natchez to eat and stay at hotels, he said.

At the First Baptist Church in Vidalia, pickleball players come from as far away as Winnsboro to play, Young said. Harp said there are seven pickleball courts already painted at the Concordia Recreation District 3 sports complex. Spence said he hopes to put in six pickleball courts at Duncan Park to grow the sport in Natchez.

“As long as we hear kids and adults laughing, our job is done.” Spence Said.