Jefferson City is stepping up its pickleball game.

It wasn’t that long ago, while driving past Lincoln University’s old tennis courts, you would see two or maybe four people sporadically playing tennis. At that point, the three courts were dull, cracked, and you could see grass growing through much of the concrete. 

Fast forward a couple of years, and with a collaboration between Lincoln University and Jefferson City Parks and Recreation, these new, updated courts can be seen full of people playing tennis as well as the ever-growing game of pickleball.  

According to the USAPA (United States of America Pickleball Association) website, “pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle, Washington. Three dads — Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum — whose kids were bored with their usual summertime activities are credited for creating the game.” 

If you’re wondering how pickleball received its name, the USAPA says there are two different theories. According to Joel Pritchard’s wife, Joan, she started calling the game pickleball because “the combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.” In the second theory, the game was named after the Pritchards’ dog, Pickles. Either way, the name has stuck for more than 50 years. 

The sport combines different elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. Two to four players can participate using solid paddles to hit a perforated polymer ball over a net. Players on the serving team have the opportunity to serve, starting from the right side of the court and score points until they commit a fault (except for in the first service sequence). If a point is scored, the server initiates the next serve from the left side of the court and continues switching back and forth until a fault is committed. In a singles game, the serve would then go to the opposing team. However, in a doubles game, the serve would go to the  serving team’s partner, who then has the opportunity to score points until they commit a fault. 

Pickleball can be played indoors or outdoors, and part of its rapid growth comes from its accessibility for people of all ages and skill levels. Judy Irwin, an avid pickleball player,  plays with older adults, but recently has been approached by several high school students interested in joining. “You meet a lot of really great people of all different ages,” she says.

With the rising popularity of pickleball in Jefferson City, many groups have formed to allow people to get in some exercise and healthy competition. The Jefferson City Pickleball Club is an organization leading the way to promote and facilitate the growth of pickleball in Jefferson City. Tournament committee co-chair Casey Parnell moved to Jefferson City from southwest Missouri and wanted a way to engage in the community and make new friends. For her, “pickleball is the most social sport, so it was a no brainer to start playing,” she says. 

The club, which now has over 60 members, holds their own leagues and tournaments and would eventually like to have their own pickleball courts. “Pickleball is so fun. Anyone can walk on the court and pick it up,” Parnell says. 

The Linc and the Jefferson City Area YMCA also offer many open-gym pickleball sessions, both indoors and outdoors. When the weather is nice, players from the Linc head out to Washington Park Tennis Courts and Yvonne Walker Hoard Tennis Courts to play in the sun. If you’re a member of the Jefferson City Area YMCA, pickleball is offered at the Firley facility on their newly renovated indoor tennis courts. They also offer pickleball open play, round-robin pickleball, and Silver Sneakers/Renew Active pickleball. 

So if you’re looking to get active, go out and give pickleball a try. No matter the age or skill level, the leagues around Jefferson City enjoy finding new players to grow their pickleball community.

Not quite ready to join a group?

Holding a tournament for you and your friends is simple. 

Blair Oaks Middle School physical education teacher Jill Linnenbrink holds a tournament every year for her students. “Putting on a tournament where the students can simply have fun is easy, and they enjoy helping me put the tournament together,” she says.  

Linnenbrink suggests first finding a venue and making sure there is availability for the date you want to hold the tournament. “For us, it’s simple — we hold the tournament in our gym. But if someone is looking for a place, it’s always a good idea to call ahead. There always seems to be people playing,” she says. 

After the date and location are secured, you’ll want to make sure everyone has the proper equipment:

  • Each court will need a pickleball net, which is shorter than a tennis net. If you don’t have a net, you can contact the Jefferson City Pickleball Club, and they can direct you on how to find one to use.
  • Pickleballs 
  • Two to four paddles. Many players bring their own paddle and a few pickleballs. 

Next, decide if your tournament will be played with official pickleball rules. A rule summary can be found on the USAPA website:

Experienced pickleball players can play by the official rules. But, for her newer students, Coach Linnenbrink modifies the rules so everyone can be successful. No matter which rules are decided on, there is no need for a referee. Simply using the honor system works well. 

You will then want to determine how many teams you’ll have and create a bracket. Coach Linnenbrink prints a bracket from and draws numbers from a cup to assign each team’s first-round match-up. After the bracket is set, the tournament begins, and teams are eliminated until a champion is crowned. 

If you want to get creative, you can make your own trophy for the tournament. Coach Linnenbrink uses a wiffle ball or pickleball and decorates it for the winning team.

Planning to play?
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