Pickleball is picking up steam on campus

America’s fastest growing sport has come to Montclair State University. Pickleball has gained momentum in recent years and now the game has taken over Montclair State’s tennis courts, where several courts are now established.

For those unfamiliar with the sport, pickleball blends elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis into an easy-to-learn and fast-paced sport. The ball resembles a wiffle ball and the bats can be compared to oversized table tennis bats. However, the gameplay is unique among racquet sports in that it emphasizes the short game and surpasses the power and speed of its more established cousins.

The Pickleball community has also grown locally. Montclair Pickleball hosts tournaments and clinics that have now expanded to campus. Montclair, NJ native Aaron Reznik co-founded the organization in 2020 and serves as its co-director. He said he grew up playing tennis before finding pickleball in college after befriending one of the best players in the country.

“When I was a freshman at the University of Maryland, I met a boy named Ben [Johns] who told me he started playing a sport called pickleball,” Reznik said. “I said, ‘Uhh sounds kinda weird,’ but then a year later he became world number one. It took him three years to convince me to play [and] When I did, I fell in love with it.”

Pickleball has experienced rapid expansion over the past two years. According to a 2022 report by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, the sport has grown nearly 40% since 2019. Over 4.8 million Americans are now spending their time improving their backhands, volleys and dinks on new courts that are being built in many places.

Montclair Pickleball was only formed a few years ago, but the organization is beginning to expand very quickly.
Photo courtesy of Taylor Warner

Richard Livornese Jr. helped coach a rookie clinic on campus and is an avid gamer. He started the game three years ago and hasn’t seemed to put the paddle down since. In addition to coaching, he regularly takes part in tournaments. He says that one of the best parts of the sport is that anyone can pick up a paddle.

“Pickleball is a game that can be played by anyone of any age,” Livornese said. “It’s universal, which is amazing. My father is 61 [years old] and he can play competitively. There is no such sport. Growing up I played lacrosse and soccer. As soon as you are 30 [years old]nobody plays anymore, it’s too hard for your body. [Pickleball] is a sport of life.”

During the Clinic, the players, most of whom have never touched a paddle, learned rules, basic skills and strategy. Livornese said the laughter and conversations between the players are part of what makes the game special.

“[Pickeball] is so sociable,” said Livornese. “You can talk and hang out. It’s not just a game you play, it is [somewhere] you are having fun and having a good time.”

Pickleball has grown nearly 40 percent in the United States.  Photo courtesy of Campus Recreation

Pickleball has grown nearly 40 percent in the United States.
Photo courtesy of Taylor Warner

Those who start pickleball are not just elite athletes, but a variety of people looking for an opportunity to get active. Unlike tennis, Pickleball is at its best when played in doubles, making it fun to play with a group of friends. Livornese said the game’s inclusiveness makes it appealing.

“I’ve been playing for a while [and] That joy doesn’t go away, it only deepens,” said Livornese. “I play all the time, every day as much as I can. There is no doubt that people will not like it if they try. There’s no reason not to. You don’t have to be the best athlete in the world, you don’t have to be in the best shape in the world. You don’t have to be big or fast or anything, just be yourself and have fun.”

In classes like those at the campus tennis courts, players learn beginner skills and other techniques every Wednesday.  Photo courtesy of Campus Recreation

In classes like those at the campus tennis courts, players learn beginner skills and other techniques every Wednesday.
Photo courtesy of Taylor Warner

The game has grown on a professional level, with well-known athletes such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Tom Brady, and Kim Clijsters buying into expansion teams in Major League Pickleball (MLP). NBA legend Dirk Nowitzki even plays in several events. But Reznik says Pickleball will continue to grow simply because the game is fun.

“I think celebrity involvement is a nice piece of the puzzle,” Reznik said. “I think what’s going to keep the sport growing in general is the sport itself [and] the fact that anyone can play independently [their] Background. Things like celebrities playing, these upcoming tours and pro tournaments are shedding a little more light on the sport and waking people up to the sport, but for me it’s about people trying and falling in love with the sport. Going forward, Pickleball will be one of the top three most played sports in this country and we are doing our best to help take the lead.”

Some of the biggest names in sports like Tom Brady and Kevin Durant have acquired fractional ownership of some teams in Major League Pickleball.  Photo courtesy of Campus Recreation

Some of the biggest names in sports like Tom Brady and Kevin Durant have acquired fractional ownership of some teams in Major League Pickleball. Photo courtesy of Taylor Warner

Courses for beginners are offered on Mondays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m. More experienced players can sharpen their skills in advanced programs on Tuesdays at 19:00

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