Johnson County will host a tournament of one of the fastest-growing sports in the world this weekend.
New Century Fieldhouse, near 175th St. and Interstate 35, will be the site of a regional pickleball tournament hosted by the Johnson County Park & Recreation District.
A combination of tennis, badminton and pingpong, pickleball is played on a surface one-third the size of a tennis court with paddles and a whiffle ball.
“It’s big all over the country, and it’s growing all the time,” said Sophie Griffin, 50-plus coordinator at Johnson County Park and Recreation District. “It’s a great game for people because of the smaller court, but it’s still very competitive.”
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The sport was invented in 1965 by Washington congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell when their families were at Pritchard’s house with nothing to do. Finding a badminton net, ping-pong paddles and a whiffle ball, pickleball was born.
Although some claim that the name “pickleball” was derived from that of the Pritchard’s family dog, Pickles, others state that the name actually came from the term “pickle boat,” referring to the last boat to return with its catch.
The sport is primarily popular among senior citizens, but its growth has skyrocketed in recent years. According to the USA Pickleball Association, the number of places to play pickleball has doubled since 2010 and there are more than 150,000 players around the world.
A pickleball-specific facility recently opened in North Kansas City, and Griffin said a group of about 20 pickleball players meets every Tuesday and Thursday at her Johnson County facility.
“It’s definitely becoming more popular in this area,” Griffin said. “A lot of the community centers in the county offer pickleball, and I know some other facilities around the Midwest are looking into putting in pickleball courts.”
Pickleball is making waves within the sports business world as well. Adidas, Reebok and Wilson are a few of the many official national sponsors of the USAPA, and there are numerous websites dedicated solely to selling pickleball equipment and accessories, such as gloves, eyewear and clothing.
Locally, Cedar Lake Village, a retirement community in Olathe, and Academy Sports and Outdoors are sponsoring this weekend’s tournament.
“We picked the pickleball tournament because it’s over a longer period of time and it’s a huge event,” said Andrea Luker, community and marketing liaison at Cedar Lake Village. “The players are always appreciative of everything we bring in, and we get the opportunity to do a little bit of advertising for our community.”
Johnson County Park & Recreation has hosted a pickleball tournament for a number of years, and though this time it is not sanctioned by the USAPA, it is still drawing an impressive field.
“We have more than 110 people registered for the event,” Griffin said. “We have people coming all the way from Florida to play. There are people coming from Oklahoma, Iowa and all over Missouri and Kansas. It’s more of a recreational tournament. And it offers an opportunity for people to come and play together and see what’s going on in the pickleball community.”