PRYOR, OK —
“Ping-pong on steroids.”
That's what Kirk Emerine calls the sport of pickleball, which has been making some waves around Pryor this spring and will be available free every Monday in June at the Pryor Creek Recreation Center.
Emerine, who teaches physical education at the Pryor Junior High School, picked up the sport while studying for his master's degree and utilized it as part of a social action project. Emerine geared his project toward people who aren't used to a recreation center or exercise-type atmosphere, and pickleball was a great fit.
“Anybody can play it,” Emerine said. “You don't have to be super fit. Whatever your ability, you can match up with somebody.”
So what is pickleball, exactly?
“Pickleball is a fun game that is played on a badminton court with the net lowered to 34 inches at the center. It is played with a perforated plastic baseball (similar to a whiffle ball) and wood or composite paddles,” the US Pickleball Association (USAPA) website says. The game is comparable to other racquet sports like tennis, but it is played on a much smaller court (20 feet by 44 feet).
“It's a small court, so you're not always running all over the place,” Emerine said.
Emerine started teaching pickleball in his middle school classes last fall. Laura Holloway, director of health and wellness for Pryor Public Schools, walked into the gymnasium one day and saw the game in action.
“Being a former tennis player, I just picked it up and thought it was so cool,” Holloway said, “and we just decided we'd try to get more people, parents, involved with doing things with their kids, activity-based things.”
Emerine and Holloway hosted the first pickleball league in January.
“Our first night [in the winter], we had maybe eight people,” Holloway said. “The next week, 12, then 20, and we got up to about 25, 26 people. During our second league, the people that came to it were new people.”
“We've had anywhere from seventh-graders all the way up to men in their 60s and everybody in between,” Emerine said. “We've had some people that were very competitive, former tennis players. But most aren't.”
Holloway spearheaded the drive for a three-year, $1 million federal Physical Education Program (PEP) Grant in 2011. Pryor was one of four Oklahoma school districts awarded the grant (which concludes next year), and Holloway and other Pryor administrators have put the money to good use.
Among other health initiatives, like the $100,000 fitness center “The Rock” on the junior high campus, some of the grant funds were used to buy equipment for the young pickleball league. The league is not sanctioned by the USAPA, but Emerine and Holloway are hopeful the Pryor branch will soon become a full member to take advantage of membership benefits.
“We want to involve our community in as many activities as we can,” Holloway said. “It's a game that anyone can play, no matter what your fitness level is, no matter what you think your skill level would be. It's been very cool to see grandparents and grandchildren come out and play together, fathers and daughters, sons and mothers.”
Currently, the league has enough equipment for four games at a time — but indoor basketball courts like the one at the middle school are only large enough to field three games at once.
“We're hoping to start playing games at multiple sites,” Holloway said.
The league will begin play at the PRCRC next month. The league is partnering with the air-conditioned PCRC every Monday night in June from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to host a full-fledged pickleball league free.
“It's a great way to get some recreation and exercise this summer,” Emerine said.
Anyone interested in playing in the pickleball league this summer may contact Emerine at firstname.lastname@example.org or Holloway at email@example.com or by calling the Pryor Public Schools Administration Office.