Pickleball taking off on Carthage courts
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Pickleball taking off on Carthage courts

Jul 27, 2023

Pickleball is being touted as the fastest growing sport in America, and Venita Judice agrees with that claim.

“It has just blown up,” she said of the popularity of the sport, which has similarities to tennis.

“You may remember in the late ‘70s and ‘80s when tennis just exploded in popularity. That’s what pickleball is today,” Judice said. She said the COVID pandemic may have had a role in the rapid growth of the sport.

“People were just ready to get out and get active and get involved outside,” she said. Locally, the sport is growing in large part to a cooperative relationship with Central Baptist Church, which allows the group to use the indoor gym facility to play from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Friday.

Judice said the local group got started in Carthage in February. The first few months of public organized pickleball have been used to determine local interest.

“We are thrilled with the turnout so far and look forward to more joining as word gets out,” she said. “It seems obvious it’s a hit.”

Plans are to expand the times to include Thursday evening in the near future for people who may not be able to participate during the day, Judice said.

She enjoys the sport so much she had been traveling to Longview for more than two years to play before the opportunity for local competition came up at the church.

“It’s just so much fun and it’s a great way to connect with other people,” Judice said. “It’s a great social outlet.”

She is one of the biggest fans of the sport in Carthage and, along with Lisa Cockrell, has helped organize and promote the sport in Panola County. Judice said she can provide a little instruction and tips to have someone playing in a short time.

Like with many other activities, people interested in learning more about it can watch YouTube videos, she said. For individuals wanting to try out the sport, the group has three courts at Central Baptist, with one of those dedicated to newcomers from 9 a.m. until 10 a.m. just to see if they want to get more involved.

“We want beginners to come and give it a try to make sure it’s something they may want to get more involved in,” Judice said. The club has a couple of loaner racquets for newcomers to try out before investing in their own equipment.

If a person wants to delve into the sport for a more serious try, there is a $10 per month fee per family to help cover expenses to help with needed equipment. Judice said participants are also required to sign a waiver.

“It’s not hard, but you can get hurt,” Judice said. “There’s a lot to it, but it’s for any age group.”

On a recent morning, session the ages of participants ranged from 14 to 82.

Among local residents who have gotten involved is former Panola County Judge David Anderson.

“I’ve just been playing about three or four months,” Anderson said. “It’s enjoyable.”

Judice said the main differences between tennis and pickleball include the net, the paddle, the ball and the court dimensions. While the net for tennis is 42 inches high, the pickleball net is 34 inches and the ball is like a lightweight whiffle ball with holes all around the ball.

While the matches are friendly, she encourages participants to focus on continually improving by challenging themselves.

“Find somebody that is a little bit better player than you and that will help you get better,” she said.

“When you go to play you really want to make sure you have the right equipment,” she said. Like for tennis racquets, there is a big difference between entry level racquets and those who have advanced in the sport to more expensive models.

Judice said the basic entry level racket can be purchased for about $30 to $35.

“It just depends on what the person wants and what they want to spend.” Judice said.

The Carthage pickleball group has an online app which allows members to keep up to date with changes in practice times and other details which may impact their schedules.

“It’s a great way for us to communicate with each other,” Judice said. For instance, on a recent morning, the Central Baptist Life Center Gym was needed for a special occasion and the pickleball group app was used to let members know.

Among the ground rules for the local pickleball club is that no unaccompanied minors are allowed. Although youngsters are encouraged to play when they are accompanied by an adult, she said.

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