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Drawing college kids and retirees, pickleball picks up participants across Siouxland
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Drawing college kids and retirees, pickleball picks up participants across Siouxland

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NORTH SIOUX CITY -- Don't be put off by its funny name: Pickleball is not the type of sport that leaves a sour taste in anyone's mouth.

Pickleball -- which combines tennis, badminton and ping pong -- is arguably the fastest-growing sport in the United States. With more than 3 million players swatting a soft, perforated ball across a net with a paddle, the sport has grown by more than 10 percent each year over the past decade.

Randy Hanson, a retired Morningside College alumni development director, started playing pickleball when it was introduced as an activity at his church.

"It's more about the camaraderie than it is about competition," he said. "You can play pickleball with your friends and still want to have lunch with them when you're done."

Carolyn Ellwanger, Briar Cliff University philanthropy director and fellow pickleball aficionado, nodded her head in agreement.

"Pickleball is all about the three F's," she said. "Friendship, fitness and fun."

If Ellwanger wanted to add a fourth F, it could stand for finesse.

More than 50 people attended a pickleball clinic Thursday at the United Sports Academy's CNOS Fieldhouse. 

Taught by Sioux Falls Pickleball Association president Larry Plucker, the clinic included a demonstration of pickleball skills as well as a Pickleball 101 on ways to start a local league.

"We want to become better players and we want to grow the sport," Hanson said.

Still, pickleball is something that was completely new to United Sports Academy executive director Shane Tritz.

"I was the general manager of the Sioux City Explorers for more than 13 years, so I know baseball," he said. "Pickleball, on the other hand, is completely new to me." 

Tritz was amazed to see the universal appeal of the sport.

"It's amazing when you see a game that draws participants who range in age from college kids all the way to folks in their 60s," he said.

Luckily, the United Sports Academy has more than 56,000 square feet that can be converted into four college basketball courts, four college volleyball courts, eight youth basketball courts, eight youth volleyball courts and, yes, even four pickleball courts. 

"Pickleball really doesn't take up much space," Tritz said. "It certainly requires less space than tennis."

Actually, that was one of the reasons Ellwanger picked up the sport more than a year ago.

"I'm at an age when I really don't want to start something as taxing as tennis," she said. "Pickleball seemed less intimidating." 

Plus there aren't any hidden fees associated with the game.

"If you can afford a racket and a ball," Ellwanger said, "then you can afford the sport."

Which is fine by her.

"Pickleball is a great way to meet new people," Ellwanger said. "Working up a sweat and improving your hand-eye coordination are also important."

Even though she plays pickleball a few times a week, Ellwanger can't compete with the ever-enthusiastic Hanson.

"It doesn't matter if you're an experienced pickleball or a newcomer, it's still fun," he said with a smile. "You'll have so much fun you forget how healthy it is."

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