By: Tom Burkhart – who is an ambassador for pickleball.
“I found this box that was stored away and it had some equipment and a net, and I read the instructions for something called ‘pickleball’ and I introduced it to the kids,” said Burkhart, who lives in Baton Rouge. “They played it and had a blast, so we put it into our curriculum back then. We developed a whole (teaching) unit for pickleball.”
Burkhart spoke at a clinic for pickleball players at the West Feliciana Sports Park on Feb. 20, which drew between 25 to 30 enthusiasts of various skill levels from as far away as Lafayette, Alexandria and Gonzales. The clinic was organized by Pat Heurtin, herself a retired P.E. teacher who taught at Baker High School at the same time Burkhart was at Baker Middle.
Pickleball combines elements of tennis, pingpong, racquetball and badminton and is played with a ball similar to a whiffle ball. It’s played on a court slightly smaller than a tennis court for singles or doubles competitors.
“It’s relatively inexpensive to get into and is competitive with a social aspect to it,” said Burkhart, who is Mid-South regional director for the United States of America Pickleball Association, which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.
According to the association’s website, there are more than 13,000 pickleball courts nationwide and more than 2.5 million players. Tournaments are played all over, and the website’s “Places to Play” lists all the various venues and tournaments.
The sport is beginning to gain in popularity in foreign countries as well, and Burkhart has traveled to destinations overseas promoting it, such as the Dominican Republic.
When he’s not conducting clinics in the region, he plays competitively. He said the sport is popular among seniors because it’s easier on the muscle joints. The goal, however, is to attract more younger players.
“It’s a great sport and it’s a fun way to meet people, stay fit and enjoy life,” Burkhart said.