Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The Rise of Pickleball in Oxford

By Adam Brown
Sports Editor

Pickleball, a paddle sport played on a level court, is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. Oxford has several places around town where anyone of any skill level can play the game.

The Oxford Park Commission has 12 courts at the John Leslie Courts, inside the Ulysses “Coach” Howell Activity Center and six at Avent Park.

OPC Communication Director John Davis told HottyToddy.com that Pickleball has grown in popularity.

“It is very popular here; tennis people gravitate toward it,” Davis said. “It’s one of the fastest-growing sports. More college-age students are participating in Pickleball since COVID.”

Neil White, a writer and publisher in Oxford, has played the sport for years.

“When I started playing five years ago, there were about 60 people playing (in Oxford),” White said. “Today, I would guess the number is closer to 250. Sam Pryor (with OPC) and (John) Davis have done a fabulous job spreading the word about the sport.”

The game of pickleball is played in doubles, and a point can only be earned by the serving team. Each team must allow the ball to bounce once on their respective side of the court, and then teams are allowed to volley the ball. The first team to get 11 points, winning by 2, is the winner of the match.

“It’s the perfect sport for people who have injured out of tennis, racquetball or squash,” White said. “In doubles, each player basically has 10 feet to cover. One step and you are there.

“Even though the sport can be enjoyed on day one by a beginner, at the higher levels of play, strategy, eye-hand coordination and quickness are still vital.”

White has won two doubles state titles with his partner, Worth duPerier, and two singles state titles. 

According to White, there were only six courts to play on in 2016 in Oxford. The number of courts has grown with new courts all over town. Other than the courts managed by OPC, there are three courts at Goose Creek and the two at Farmstead on Woodson Ridge.

“Sandy and Anne Sharpe, owners of the Farmstead at Woodson Ridge, along with duPerier, have brought in one of the top professional players, Scott Moore, to give clinics,” White said. “They were so popular. Scott visited Oxford twice in a single month.”

As fast as people continue to pick up pickleball, White predicts that “Oxford will have dedicated, outdoor courts within a few years. And I suspect we may even host a professional tournament at some point.”

OPC offers a slow play for beginners on Mondays at 9 a.m. It is free to play at the Park Commission.