Skip to main content

Cecil County Life

Pickleball: The fast-growing sport finds popularity in Cecil County

Dec 01, 2023 03:18PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Drewe Phinny
Contributing Writer

Is there a connection between pickles and the game of Pickleball?

Well, sort of.

As co-founder Brandon Mackie explained, it’s not the edible food, but rather the name of a dog called Pickles that led to the naming of the sport. Or, possibly, the name is derived from a rowing term. Confused? We do have some established facts.

Three vacationers on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, invented the sport in 1965. Then things get a little less undisputed. Here’s how Mackie sees it.

“There are two stories,” he said. “There’s the dog, Pickles, and then there’s the story that one of the founders’ wives was involved in rowing. There’s a term in rowing called a pickle boat, which is a mish-mash of different rowers and different teams, and that’s kind of what Pickleball is—different sports. But I read an account of one of the most influential women in Spain. She gave many interviews and wrote a book on it. She is pretty adamant that the founders think the rowing story is false and the dog story is correct.”

Just to finish the canine angle, one of the founder’s dogs enjoyed chasing the ball as the game took place. That dog’s name was Pickles, and thus, Pickleball was born. Actually, Mackie sees some of these colorful details as part of the unique nature of Pickleball.

“That’s kind of some of the magic—that anyone can play,” he explained. “Culturally, people are a lot more open to playing with folks they don’t know, compared to golf or tennis, which almost never happens. So they’ll put up a game, ‘hey, we’re going out around 3:30, lookin’ for two more’ and you’ll find your other players and you meet other people, and that’s one of the cooler aspects you don’t see in the established sports.”

Pickleball is also a game of inclusion.

Mackie explained, “There’s an interesting gender equality to it. Men are just not automatically better at Pickleball than women. And a pro woman can beat a pro man, which you wouldn’t necessarily see in other sports.”

Mackie describes Pickleball as a “social activity as much as a sport. It’s commonly played in an open-play format where 50 or even more players show up and rotate games and partners. You also almost always play as doubles, which leaves many opportunities to socialize and meet players.”

Pickleball’s popularity in the U.S. exploded during the pandemic, when many Americans were looking for responsible ways to socialize and stay active. But that was only the beginning. The sport’s growth has continued even as lockdowns have ended and normal life has resumed. It is a sport for all ages. Anyone from age 5 to 95 can play and have fun. This makes Pickleball the perfect activity for families, especially around the holidays.

Blogger Christina Duron has written a pretty succinct version of just what Pickleball is: “A pickleball is a mad scientist-like combination of a Wiffle, ping-pong and tennis ball in one. The ball is larger than other racket sports and its large holes affect its aerodynamics, causing it to lose steam when it’s coming at you.”

In addition, Mackie has also included badminton in his description of the sport.

In comparison to tennis, Pickleball courts are 44-foot by 20-foot, including the lines, while a tennis court is 78-foot by 27-foot. A pickleball net is 36 inches high at the sidelines and 34 inches high in the middle, compared to 42 inches high at the sidelines and 36 inches in the middle for a tennis net.

Mackie estimates the average length of a Pickleball game to be around fifteen minutes.

He said, “It could be ten minutes, could be thirty minutes. I’ll go out for three hours, four hours. You rotate.”

He explained that the more people who want to play, there will be a need to have people rotate in and out so maybe not everyone will be playing all the time.

Now, for the really good news. Pickleball players can pursue their passion at plenty of places right here in Cecil County, including Marina Park (on Plum Point Road), the YMCA of Cecil County (25 YMCA Boulevard off Route 40 in Elkton) Thomson Estates Elementary (203 East Thomson Drive in Elkton) and Elkton Indoor Tennis (360 Maloney Road). Those four locations have a total of 23 courts. And by the time you are reading this, there will most likely be more additions, including several in nearby Newark.

On a scale of 1-10, Mackie’s enthusiasm about Pickleball is an 11.

“The magic of Pickleball is it’s easy to learn, but hard to master,” Mackie said. Beginners can go out there the first time, learn the game, have fun and even win a few games. But advanced players stay challenged and keep coming back for more. This dynamic is a big reason why Pickleball continues to grow.

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America. A new report by the Professional Pickleball Association estimates 36.5 million people played last year. That makes Pickleball one of the most popular sports in the country by participation, nearly twice the size of tennis, and just shy of popular activities like running and cycling.”

Ellen Poe, executive director of the Cecil County YMCA, a Branch of the YMCA of the Chesapeake, is more than happy to provide more details about the overall benefits of Pickleball. “It continues to grow in popularity and we are excited to have Pickleball here within our community and the Y,” she said. “The great aspects of the sport are wellness for mind, body and spirit, which aligns directly with the Y’s mission. The greatest of these benefits, we are seeing, is the social community that is involved. Individuals are getting to meet and connect with others, and this allows for wellbeing for their spirit. I believe that the last few years have demonstrated significantly the need for connection and I feel this is one reason for Pickleball’s growth.” Brandon Mackie is an experienced entrepreneur and co-founder of Pickleheads. Previously, he founded a consumer snack brand, Keto Farms, which was sold in February of 2022. Brandon started his journey as an early employee of Soylent, which he helped scale to an 8-figure e-commerce business. He’s an avid writer and co-founder of Pickleheads. Once a competitive tennis player, Brandon can be seen honing his dinks (a shot in which the ball is landed at your feet with the intention to your opponent or is landed in their non-volley zone) on the pickleball courts.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Cecil County's free newsletter to catch every headline