Despite its quirky name that has nothing to do with little gherkins, Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. The sport grew to over 4.8 million players in 2021, a two-year growth rate of over 39 percent, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. And that trend is evident here in western Pennsylvania.
Bruce Mazzoni, cofounder and codirector of the Cranberry Township Pickleball Association (CTPA) said that CTPA has grown tremendously since it was founded in 2017.
“The initial membership was 160 people, which we thought was huge,” he said. Today, the Association has over 1,030 members and a waiting list of over 150. And although pickleball is often thought of as a ‘senior sport’ popular with the 55-plus crowd, the fastest growing demographic is under age 50.
Mazzoni said that the concept for pickleball courts in Cranberry started in 2015 when the Cranberry Township Community Center (CTCC) was developing ideas for their Project of the Year. When the project was conceived to create the SportCourts, the original design had four tennis courts with pickleball lines so the courts could share the same net.
“Then there was a push to have dedicated pickleball courts, and on the second concept design we had four pickleball courts and two tennis courts,” Mazzoni explained. “Since I was the chairman of the fundraiser for CTCC and an avid pickleball fan, I asked the designer to develop the concept with eight pickleball courts, and that caused a lot of laughter within the township. Many people thought four courts was about two courts too many.”
But the pickleball players were a determined group. “The final build would depend on how much was raised for that sport. We needed $200,000 to qualify to build the eight courts,” Mazzoni said. When they raised $125,000, they formed an association to assume the $75,000 debt to complete the courts.
“The goal was to pay back the $75,000 in three years, and we were able to pay it back in 20 months,” he said.
While the association is connected to Cranberry Parks and Recreation, they are managed strictly by volunteers. “In 2021, we had over 150 people who volunteered over 10,000 hours to manage CTPA,” Mazzoni said.
For anyone interested in the sport, Mazzoni suggests they enroll in the pickleball beginners course that is offered once a month. The CTPA provides a paddle and ball to keep and an extensive two-hour clinic. The class also includes three more two-hour sessions in the early
learner’s program. For more information, visit www.cranberrytownship.org/2587/CTPA-Pickleball-Academy.
The Cranberry Township courts are located out of doors, but the CTPA reserves space inside the Community Center and a separate facility for cold weather play. They are also adding lights to the outdoor courts to extend hours for play.
Mazzoni himself is an avid pickleball player who is on the court three to five times a week. A tennis player, he took up the sport about 10 years ago. “I was curious about the game and tried it out. I really enjoyed it and immediately saw the beauty of the sport,” he said.
Like Mazzoni, Jan Weissbart was a tennis player when she became interested in pickleball a little over three years ago. “When I retired, I was looking for another sport and decided to try it,” she said. The Adams Township resident now plays three times a week at the Pine Community Center.
“It is a great physical activity and great fun. I’ve met a lot of new friends and really have a good time. They used to call it ‘old people’s tennis,’ but more and more young people are enjoying it,” she said.
Weissbart labels herself as a recreational player, playing hard and competitively, “but just for fun.”
Gina Kampi, program coordinator, said that the Pine Community Center requires players to be members, but that they can play at the center for free. “We have a recreational program where 18 people can play at a time,” she explained. Courts can be reserved 48 hours in advance. They also offer a beginners’ time slot for those just getting started in the sport. For more information visit: https://www.twp.pine.pa.us/163/Community-Center.
Many other township park and recreational centers offer pickleball opportunities. There are also first-come, first-serve courts at North Park located on Tennis Court Drive which are available during regular park hours.
But Mazzoni said that those interested in the sport should beware. “People become passionate about pickleball,” he laughed.