The pickleball boom has hit San Antonio

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In her youth, Angelica Ramos practiced just about every sport possible. Soccer and volleyball in high school, intramural sports in college, softball, golf and tennis in adulthood.

Then she turned 40 and her body began its inexorable betrayal. The tennis court was suddenly too big, the other softball players too fast and powerful.

“I couldn’t compete like I used to,” said Ramos, who teaches high school engineering and architecture. “And I like to be competitive.”

Then her best friend invited her to participate in a pickleball tournament, a sport she had never tried. Not only did she hold on, but the pair finished fourth, one match point away from a medal. She had found a new obsession.

Today Ramos, 47, is a regular at the free pickleball free games held four times a week at Fairchild Park on the East Side.

And she is not alone. Pickleball is said to be the fastest growing sport in the country, and it’s clearly on the rise in San Antonio as well.

Up to 90 players, paddles in hand, will show up at Fairchild on any given Saturday, up from 25 to 30 before the pandemic, according to Mark Flinn, another player there.

flower park, 15015 Heimer Road

Garza Park, 1450 Mira Vista

Fairchild Park, 1214 E. Crockett Street

Hamilton Community Center, 10700 Nacogdoches

Normoyle Park, 700 Culberson Avenue

Oak Haven Park, 16400 Parkstone

Pittman Sullivan Park, 1101 Iowa St.


“It’s remarkable how the sport has grown,” said Flinn, a construction consulting firm owner who was introduced to the sport by his girlfriend in 2019.

For those who haven’t been regaled recently by a newly converted player, pickleball is a sneaky, fast-paced mix of tennis, ping-pong and badminton. Invented in 1965 by three fathers in Washington State, it is played on a comfortable court about a quarter the size of a tennis court using ping pong paddles and a ball. wiffle shape. Like these other sports, the goal is to hit the ball over the net so your opponent can’t return it.

Pickleball’s takeover of sports fields nationwide has been chronicled by Vanity Fair, Glamour, The New York Times and The New Yorker. It has bewitched celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Larry David, Melinda Gates, George and Amal Clooney and, closer to home, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

The Pickleball Book

Like many people, Rachel Simon, a freelance writer in Raleigh, North Carolina, started playing pickleball during the pandemic while she and her husband Kurt were quarantining with her father and stepmother.

Learn more about pickleball: Windcrest residents will get a new pickleball court – possibly two

“We were getting anxious and bored,” she said. “Then Kurt got a pickleball set for his birthday. We made a chalk pitch in the driveway and started playing.

“Pickleball for All” (Dey Street Books, $17.99) is a comprehensive introduction to the sport.

Dey Street Books

They enjoyed it so much that Simon recently published “Pickleball for All” (Dey Street Books, $17.99), a comprehensive primer on the sport.

Simon said pickleball’s secret sauce is its inclusiveness, that it can be played and enjoyed by almost anyone, regardless of age, gender and even athletic ability. As long as you can hit the ball where you want it to go, you can compete.

“They say pickleball is easy to learn but hard to master, so it’s really hard,” she said. “A 10-year-old can play against a 60-year-old and you might not know who’s going to win.”

Yet pickleball can also be played at a high level. Fox Sports, ESPN and CBS Sports Network have all broadcast tournaments sponsored by companies such as Hertz, Hyundai and Carvana. Top players earn between $50,000 and $200,000 a year, though a lot of that comes from gear endorsements.

Money is bound to get bigger, and when it does, pickleball’s backyard, mom and pop sensation can be in jeopardy. A worrying sign is that there are now two international pickleball governing bodies in competition, the International Pickleball Federation and the World Pickleball Federation, and two US national professional tours, the Association of Pickleball Professionals and its rival, the Professional Pickleball Association.

As a recent Sports Illustrated story put it, pickleball “is plagued by its terrible tweens. Growing pains galore and a litany of F-words: factions, fractures, friction… . In short, picklebalkanization.

Such setbacks have little effect on players like Elvira Guevara, who discovered the sport only about a year ago. But she enjoys it so much that before she recently traveled to Albuquerque to visit her sister, she went online to find where she could get a good match.

“I went straight from the airport to the pickleball court,” said the 57-year-old school counselor, who also converted her son, daughter and grandson to the game. “It changed my life.”

More players, more fields

According to a 2022 report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, participation in pickleball has increased by 14.8% between 2020 and 2021, and there are now 4.8 million players in the United States. Despite his image as the favorite sport of retirees, the player’s average age has dropped by nearly three years between 2020 and 2021, to just over 38.

San Antonio is no exception when it comes to the popularity of pickleball.

Pickleball and more: Gen Z discovers pickleball, pétanque and other senior-friendly games

There are pickleball courts in seven city parks, and a recent bond earmarked $1.5 million to build more. Even before that, Fairchild Park was building six new dedicated courts due to open later this month, bringing the total parks to 16. Four more are planned for late spring next year, according to Shanea Allen, head of recreation in San Antonio. Parks and recreation.

While the park also has 10 tennis courts, on a recent Tuesday night only two were in use. Meanwhile, the pickleball courts were so busy that players had to call “next” by placing their paddles into the numbered slots of a specially constructed caddy.

The San Antonio Country Club has six permanent pickleball courts, with hopes to build four more over the next two years.

The San Antonio Country Club has six permanent pickleball courts, with hopes to build four more over the next two years.

San Antonio Country Club

Several miles away and socio-demographic levels, the San Antonio Country Club has six permanent pickleball courts where players of all levels compete. The club hopes to build four more over the next two years, said tennis director Dennis Reblin, who jokes that he should add “and pickleball” to his title.

“Since pickleball became a thing, my job responsibilities have almost doubled,” he said. “We probably have around 200 active players here at the club. It’s about the same number of tennis players.

Demand is so high that on weekends players have to set aside time on the pitch, even in the heat of summer.

“I can’t imagine what’s going to happen once the weather gets cooler,” Reblin said.

For years, retired banker Mark Johnson was an avid tennis player and golfer. But about a year and a half ago, he started hearing about this new sport with the funny name, so he asked Reblin about it.

“He said to me, ‘You have to come and play,'” Johnson, 75, said. “I started playing twice a week and I love it. It’s a great exercise because you move all the time, it improved my reaction time, my flexibility.

At the FIT High Performance Tennis Academy & Pickleball Fitness Center in Windcrest, owner Michael Castillo is in negotiations with the city to purchase land so he can build nine new courts to add to the nine he already owns.

“Since I took over the center (in 2020) pickleball attendance has doubled, he said. “And our revenue from pickleball has increased by 130%, which includes tournament and training revenue.”

Instructor Sebastian Gutierrez says the players he has taught over the past two years have gotten older and younger.

“The age range is widening,” he said. “I have players in their 60s and players as young as 7 or 8. I would say the average player is in their late 30s.”

As pickleball continues to grow, supporters say there’s no limit to its size. Those with their eyes on the farthest horizon say the ultimate prize would be pickleball as an Olympic sport. According to the Sports Illustrated article, they have already targeted 2032 in Brisbane, Australia.

[email protected] | Twitter: @RichardMarini

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