The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Pickleball Club serves fun, seeks to expand its ranks

Junior+Emily+Schutt+reaches+to+return+a+ball+our+of+the+air+at+pickleball+practice+on+Oct.+14.+Schutt+was+extremely+open+to+learning+the+rules+and+tactics+of+the+game.%0A
Sofi Klein
Junior Emily Schutt reaches to return a ball our of the air at pickleball practice on Oct. 14. Schutt was extremely open to learning the rules and tactics of the game.

In recent years, pickleball has established itself as one of America’s fastest-growing sports. This surge in popularity may be visible at the university level, as students created the Pickleball Club at the University in the spring of 2023. 

The paddle sport is played between two opposing teams on a small asphalt court. Often considered a hybrid of tennis and pingpong, it can be played with one or two people on each team. 

The game was created in 1965 by a group of friends who were trying to play badminton without having all the necessary equipment. Over the next few decades, the sport grew gradually, and by 1990, it was being played in all 50 states.

Pickleball continued gaining in popularity, and in 2021, it was America’s fastest-growing sport, a trend that continued in 2023, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

“We were kinda surprised there wasn’t (a club) already because I feel like more people definitely started playing last summer,” said Wyatt Johnston, sophomore in Engineering and president of the club.

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The newly founded registered student organization currently has a GroupMe with roughly 400 members, 90 of whom practice regularly, according to RSO members. Team practices are casual, built around having fun competing with people of similar skill levels.  

“We are not running drills or anything,” Johnston said. “It’s a place for people to come together and find people of their skill level and play.”

The team has ambitions of expanding, first by registering as an official club sport — a process they cannot apply for until the RSO has been active for a full year. 

“Right now we are really just trying to get our feet on the ground and establish something consistent before we build out,” Johnston said.

Club members explained becoming an official club sport could benefit the team, as the change in status would alleviate one of its biggest challenges: court rental costs.

At the University, RSOs pay to rent an outdoor facility, such as tennis courts. However, a club sport status exempts groups from this fee.

“It would be pretty big for us,” Johnston said. “That’s really our main cost right now.”

Eventually, the team expressed that they hope to play against other universities and have already been in contact with DePaul University and Southern Illinois University. 

Although pickleball’s recent popularity can not be attributed to one singular fact, members of the team’s executive board generally agree the sport’s appeal derives from its welcoming nature and adaptability. 

“For me, everyone can play at any skill level,” said Aman Dhoraje, junior in Engineering and vice president of the RSO. “It doesn’t matter, and it is really easy to get into.”

Sam Poda, sophomore in AHS and membership director of the team, also noted that pickleball builds friendships and has created a community at the University.

“Everyone just gets so excited to play,” Poda said. “Everyone is like, ‘When do we have practice?,’ or, in our GroupMe, they’re like ‘Does anyone want to play?’”

Johnston noted pickleball is often one of the easier sports to begin playing with minimal experience, encouraging all skill levels to participate in the RSO.

“It’s really easy to have fun with people and bring people into it because it hooks you right away, and you can see that you’re getting the hang of it,” Johnston said. 

 

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