Pickleball gaining popularity in Northeast Florida

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Pickleball has been called the fastest growing sport in the country.

There are 6,000 places to play pickleball around the country, and dozens of courts and groups around the First Coast that are gaining traction.

Despite what the name would suggest, there are no pickles actually involved in pickleball. It's a modified tennis-style game played with wiffle balls and tennis-elbow friendly paddles.

"We play on courts half the size of tennis courts," said 71-year-old George Catalano.

He's been playing since 2006, after having both knees replaced.

"I thought I was finished with the competitive aspect of my life," he said.

But pickleball minimizes the running and strain put on bodies during full tennis matches, while still stimulating hand-eye coordination. And it really gets the heart rate up too.

"We're out here playing for a good four hours," Catalano said.

There are several games, almost every night of the week and weekends that these pickleballers meet.

Catalano is at the Winston Family YMCA in Ponte Vedra Beach on Tuesdays and Thursdays, along with a couple dozen others.

"And on Wednesday's, 20 of us play over at the Cuba Hunter park on Emerson," he said.

Catalano is an ambassador for the game and is doing his best to grow it around Jacksonville.

He works along with Verna Griffin who organized and heads up the Pickleballers By The Sea group. She hosts free clinics and games several nights a week.

"We provide the courts and equipment, we'll have you playing in less than 15 minutes."

If you're interesting in learning, or finding more groups to play with there are several websites that can guide you. There are games every night of the week.

You can click here to go to Verna's Pickleball By The Sea webpage for their schedule.

The USAPA website shows you all games around the area, state and region including tournaments you can play in.


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