According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, pickleball is once again the fastest growing sport in the U.S. with 39.3% growth over a two-year period and an estimated 4.8 million players. Major League Pickleball (MLP) now boasts 24 teams, six major events, and $5 mission in prize money. Celebrity owners of MLP franchises include the likes of Lebron James, Kevin Durant and Tom Brady. The sport has exploded in popularity since the pandemic and the public is beginning to take note. New facilities are expanding across the country including the newly announced $70 million Swing Facility opening in Raleigh, North Carolina next year with 24 pickleball courts.
College campuses are not immune to this burgeoning sport as students clamor for access to courts and support the conversion of existing spaces. A lifetime sport, pickleball is fun for all ages and a game almost anyone can play making it essential for recreational sports calendars.
Embrace the Game
East Carolina University (ECU) embraced pickleball in fall 2022 with our first overtures into the sport in a one-day tournament sponsored by the Mt. Olive Pickle Company. The event saw over 30 participants play indoors on existing badminton courts at the Eakin Student Recreation Center. Participants clamored for the custom green shirts and the free samples courtesy of Mt. Olive.
The tournament was a great pickleball introduction on campus laying the groundwork for future offerings and the expansion of the game into the surrounding community. Intramural sports plans to add a regular indoor pickleball league this coming year with hopes of gathering enough support to add outdoor courts in the future.
Embrace Your Campus
The summer months on ECU’s campus are slow with a limited student population. To engage students, faculty and staff, intramural sports created an “IM Trying” series to educate participants on the “how-to” of playing various sports. Pickleball became our first IM Trying series in summer 2023 with campus-wide outreach messaging sent out in early May. Our first offering had 20 participants, many who had never visited our recreation facilities prior to their first game of pickleball.
As of July 2023, we have hosted eight pickleball open play days, even in the mid-summer’s heat, with an average attendance of 16 participants. Games are lively and the camaraderie built is essential to building a vibrant summer community at ECU. We even turned a new participant into a paying campus recreation and wellness member, a positive by-product of the series.
Embrace Your Community
Late spring 2023 saw the addition of eight pickleball courts at a local tennis facility near ECU’s main campus. Many in the town were frustrated with the loss of three tennis courts, but the city’s recreation and parks department were spot on with their anticipation of the game’s explosion. On most weeknights all eight courts are packed with multiple players vying for next game.
The IM-trying series utilizes the courts during the slower daytime hours, attracting ECU students, faculty and staff to one of our town’s new recreational amenities. During our time at the courts on Thursday afternoons we’ve met ECU students, recent graduates and faculty/staff who join in our games. Pickleball is a game meant for everyone and ECU intramural sports prides itself on being inclusive and welcoming to all skill levels.
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