Pickleball is America’s fastest growing sport right now and it is sweeping through South Jersey communities. Last month I visited with Deptford’s Charlie Kirschner and his pickleball club, to learn all about the sport which is attracting players of all ages.
During my visit we made a video, which includes a visit from Deptford Mayor Medany who also talks about the popularity of pickleball, and other new additions to Fasola Park! (Video link is here, or scroll to the bottom of the article).
If you are a Deptford resident and want to participate in the Deptford Pickleball Club, you can reach out to Charlie Kirschner at the town hall (856) 845-5300), or email. And don’t worry, many other towns and counties have (or are building) their own courts.
Keep scrolling and reading for more on pickleball!
Pickleball – What is it?
I had a general idea of what pickleball is… That it’s a somewhat smaller version of tennis… mixed in with badminton… and ping-pong.
But I had a lot of missing details, and I know that many of the 42Freeway readers aren’t clear on what this newer sport is.
As an example, I recently posted about new indoor pickleballs court being planned for Blackwood and Avalon, which had a lot of folks commenting “What is pickleball?”
Also many towns are adding public pickleball courts, and when I see that information shared in local town Facebook groups there are similar comments “is there enough interest in pickleball to support this?”
Well according to the Association of Pickleball professionals there is, as they say more than 36.5 million people played pickleball in one year from August 2021 to August 2022!
But I wanted to find out the true details on America’s fastest growing sport, so I met up with Charlie Kirchner who is the Recreation Director in Deptford, and who also coordinates a Deptford based pickleball club.
Deptford was an obvious choice for me in that I had noticed the Township was one of the first to jump into developing their own public courts for residents. The Deptford courts have been open over a year.
Pickleball: I Take A Swing At It
I know that people say pickleball is a mix of sports; tennis, badminton and ping pong etc. But to me pickleball really is most closely a smaller court version of tennis. It also plays like a smaller court version of tennis.
And if you know a bit about tennis, then you know the core aspects of pickleball!
Besides the smaller court, the paddles are also smaller and they resemble ping pong paddles… but you still swing them like a tennis racket.
And what I think is the biggest impact to the change in play is the ball. It’s not the highly pressurized rubber tennis ball which can have explosive bounces.
The pickleball is a hard rigid hollow plastic ball with holes, very similar to one of those bright green golf practice balls, but larger.
The rigid structure of the ball and the holes within it make it move more slowly and without the aggressive wild bounces of the tennis ball.
So if you factor in the smaller size of the court and the slower movement of the ball, you’re chances of having to run across the court at top speed to return the other team’s shot, is lower.
In pickleball I believe the net is lower than tennis also, and considering the smaller size of the court… to keep people from standing right up on the net and smashing the ball back to the other team, there is a “no mans land” area near the net which Charlie says is called “The Kitchen”.
Absolutely you can return the ball while in the air (without a bounce first) but you can’t be standing within “the kitchen” area near the net, when you do that.
Simply, the pickleball rules make it so that you can’t smash the ball down hard onto the opposing players just on the other side of the net.
It’s also important to note that after a serve the next two return shots need have bounced before you hit them.
There are some tennis similarities to the scoring also, such as you need to have served the ball and then earn the point to then be awarded a point.
Serving also functions very similar to tennis where you position yourself on one side of the back of the court, and serve across the net to the opposite far corner.
When you factor in the changes in the game rules, the size of the court and the rigid plastic ball… It does make for a very enjoyable game with a reasonable balance of getting a workout in, without crushing you.
And you’ll find that folks from 8 to 80 will be able to play and have a great time
Pickleball-America’s Fastest Growing Sport
Last September the New York Times wrote about the surprising growth in popularity of pickleball in the United States.
The game has a reputation as being for the older crowd, but that’s just because the over-55 community were the first to adopt it.
So while it is true that half of the serious players in 2021 we’re over 55, the fastest growing segment of all pickleball players are under 24 years old!
And in the category of casual players who just head out for a game every once in a while? The vast majority are under 55 years old.
The New York Times article credits several reasons for the growing popularity but likely one that is at the top of the list is that it is just easier to “pick up and be able to play” than other groups sports… while still being very challenging.
As I mentioned, the smaller court, hard paddles and wiffleball stye ball makes for a game that while still fast and challenging, is slowed up just a little so that more people can quickly become proficient enough that they enjoy it.
Charlie likes to say that you can move at your own pace, and I fully agree with that.
In the video that we filmed I know at least one of the ladies who helped us was in her 80s! I really should have given them more focused time on the video because they were amazing.
Pickleball is also becoming a very competitive sport. Professional pickleball has become a real thing with a much more aggressive style of play and maneuvers.
I compare the fun-style versus professional-style similar to how ping pong differs between your neighbor’s basement table and then watching the International ping pong players at the Olympics.
But don’t worry you’re very unlikely to find those pro level players at your town’s local pickleball court. You’ll only find challenging fun!
As mentioned, many towns in South Jersey are adding public courts.
If you live in Deptford you can reach out to Charlie and join his organized Deptford pickleball club. He’s a super nice guy who is very eager to help people learn the sport. Send Charlie an e-mail or leave him a message by calling the Township’s main number (856) 845-5300 and he’ll reach back out to you.
Twice a week in the late afternoons they run a beginner program where they take the time to explain all the basics of the game.
If you live in other towns, many of them are adding their own public pickleball courts. You should reach out to your recreation department for details and how to participate in any town organized clubs.
I really want to give a huge thank you to Charlie and his pickleball friends for entertaining me on a quiet weekday afternoon at the court, particularly Florence and Shirl! And also Thank You to Deptford Mayor Paul Medany for sharing more about the new things at Fasola Park!
Fasola Park – BMX, Walking Path, Adult Gym, More Restrooms
In the video you’ll see that Mayor Medany and I also talked about several new additions to Deptford’s Fasola park.
First and foremost was the new Pickleball courts.
The Mayor says that additional bathrooms are being developed this spring, in the lower level of the park near the pickleball courts!
The walking tracks were highlighted. The full Fasola park is very large, and there are two paths around the full perimeter.
The original path takes the widest route and in portions goes through wooded areas, and up some small elevations. The newer path follows around the park also, but stays more in the interior open areas.
The BMX track was just installed last fall and features several unique and challenging “events” for bike riders. Pump-track section, tube and a banked curved wall are also in the mix.
Plus of course Deptford’s Fasola Park also has the kid’s playground areas, the splash pad… and the signature lake with fountain.
Something for everyone of all ages.
Links and Location
Fasola Park Deptford
12 Sycamore Ln (off of Delsea Drive)
Deptford, NJ 08096