You can’t spear the ball in pickleball, but you can slice it.
➼ America’s fastest-growing sport has taken root in Morgantown.
First played in 1965, pickleball, a hybrid of racket-based games, is popular among Mountain State snowbirds who spend winters south. Its local origins spring from a converted tennis court in Granville. When Justin Stephens’ parents introduced him to the game not many years ago after they returned home from wintering in Florida, he found he loved the social interaction. In 2014, he became an ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association and a local promoter of the sport.
A pickleball court is striped like tennis but smaller, like badminton. The game is played with short-handled rackets and a hard, lightweight plastic ball with holes in it. Playing in singles or doubles, participants serve, dink, and volley the ball across the net until one side claims victory by reaching at least 11 points with a two-point lead. Underhand serving and a smaller court make it less physically demanding than tennis—though still a workout.
In Morgantown, Stephens, with the help and enthusiasm of other players, has increased participation in the Morgantown Pickleballers to about 75 regular players from Morgantown, Fairmont, and Clarksburg. They congregate on courts and in a rapidly growing Facebook group, where they plan matches, share photos, and celebrate members’ competition victories.
Rick Shaw, a longtime player and enthusiast, remembers when the only place to play was the Granville Pickleball Court. While he’s thankful for that space, he’s happy there are more facilities in Morgantown now. These include Krepps Park, Mylan Park, Wesley United Methodist Church, and Westview Tennis Center. Shaw helped convert some of the locations, a task he says is as simple as painting new lines and buying the nets, which are lower than tennis or badminton.
Players range from their 20s to their 80s and show up for the exercise, competition, and camaraderie. Some play five times a week, and several local players have medaled at regional and national competitions. In fact, Stephens and his sister Sarah Gnegy won first place in mixed doubles in the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships in Naples, Florida, in April.
Morgantown Pickleballers recently established a website and hope to become an official USA Pickleball Association club. They plan to offer youth workshops and to host tournaments at the new Mylan Park facility’s nine indoor courts. Stephens says an added benefit of the new facilities will be a boon to local businesses when tournaments are held there.
Pickleball is also growing across the state. The website of the company Ultra Pickleball lists 15 venues, from Charleston to Wheeling and Parkersburg to Paw Paw, with more opening all the time.
In Morgantown, both Stephens and Shaw are excited about the new facilities and the growth of the sport they love. They say newcomers learn it easily, and anyone who goes and plays a few games is sure to go back.
To give pickleball a try, put on some comfortable clothes and tennis shoes and show up during scheduled play at any of the venues listed on the website—players always welcome newcomers enthusiastically. morgantownpickleball.com
written by Austin Rempel