Document Viewer
They're on a mission - to play pickleball in all 50 states
Mar 26

By JOSH SHAFFER, The News & Observer

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The joy of whacking a green plastic orb first struck Richard and Mary Jo Panettieri in 2017, before the nationwide pickleball mania started spreading faster than spilled paint.

But from that first swat, the retirees from Connecticut knew they'd found an all- consuming hobby - a diversion so powerful they carried paddles in their car, a pastime so cherished it grew into a quest:

Play pickleball in all 50 states.

The Panettieris recently notched North Carolina, No. 8 on their list, on a swing through Raleigh. At open pickleball night at Tarboro Road Community Center, they represented the only car in the parking lot with Connecticut plates. They hadn't even unpacked their luggage at the Hampton Inn.

"We just got into town at 6," said Mary Jo, "and pickleball was at 6:30. We were racing down the highway."

Such is the fervor for pickleball, now ranked as the nation's fastest-growing sport for the third-straight year. Its players nearly doubled in 2022 to reach 8. 9 million overall - nearly the population of North Carolina.


For the uninitiated, think of pickleball as a tossed salad of all the racket sports, with tennis as the lettuce, ping pong for the tomato, and badminton as the red-roasted pepper.

As far as I can tell, the sport bears no connection to cucumbers preserved in brine.

Rather, it got invented by some desperate parents on vacation who made use of what implements they had lying around. The "pickle" in the name comes from an obscure rowing term, meaning a boat whose members got left over from other boats, or basically, a motley combination of spare parts.

So you play on a tennis court, but you swat a glorified wiffle ball with an oversized paddle. Pickleballs are far harder to knock over the fence or miles out of bounds, weighing less than an ounce, but they can hover in the air like a badminton birdie waiting to be smashed.

The pickleball craze has seized Raleigh enough that nine of its community centers - more than half - provide indoor courts, up from just a few in 2012. Add six more outdoor courts, two of them converted from tennis.

But the biggest appeal is the sport's democracy. As someone who has suffered through team sports in both Raleigh and Cary, as a player and as an adult, I can tell you that Raleigh pickleball offers a rare welcome to the unskilled.

By The Associated Press, Copyright 2023

Join Now for the 50 Plus Newsletter