Stan Brothers of Lake Gaston started playing pickleball eight years ago and quickly grew to love the sport, which combines tennis, badminton, ping pong and racquetball techniques. Later this summer, he will be traveling overseas to participate in the French Open Pickleball Championships.
Brothers, a retired IBM senior engineering manager who more recently worked as Aerospace Education Laboratory coordinator with the Warren County Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy, first saw people playing pickleball nine years ago. He took up the sport when local pickleball enthusiast Sylvia Fletcher brought the game to Warren County eight years ago.
At first, he had a hard time finding the John Graham Gym on Wilcox Street in Warrenton where pickleball is played each week, but soon became one of the regular players. Today, Fletcher and Brothers serve as pickleball ambassadors, spreading the word that people of all ages can enjoy the sport with the funny name.
Brothers picked up a pickleball racket just a few years ago, but the sport traces its origins to 1965 as a cure for a case of boredom. According to the USA Pickleball Association, the game was invented by Washington Congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell, who arrived at Pritchard’s Bainbridge Island, Wash., home after a game of golf to find their families just sitting around and looking bored.
After an unsuccessful search for badminton rackets, they pulled out ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. Pritchard and Bell tried setting the net a various heights, but eventually settled on 36 inches. One weekend later, Barney McCallum joined the pickleball-playing group. He, Pritchard and Bell utilized existing badminton rules to develop guidelines for playing the newly-formed sport.
Brothers said that pickleball has gained a strong following around the world. Eight years ago, 50,000 people were playing the sport. Now, more than 3 million players have taken up pickleball rackets.
Brothers has medaled in pickleball competition at both the regional and state Senior Games. He played the sport in France for the first time a couple of years ago. Brothers noted that pickleball is becoming increasingly popular in Europe, where the German, Italian, Spanish, English and, now, French Open are held.
This year’s French Open, to be held Aug. 26-Sept. 1, will mark the first such competition in France, meaning that Brothers will be part of a history-making experience. He will compete in the 75-79 age group in men’s doubles and mixed doubles.
Interest in pickleball continues to grow, especially among Baby Boomers, who discover that the sport is easier on muscles and joints than tennis. Locally, pickleball is especially popular among people in the seventies. Brothers recalled a 77-year-old man from Henrico who travels to Warrenton on a regular basis to play the sport as a means to maintain his strength after suffering a heart attack.
Brothers estimates that 20 people from Warren County and surrounding areas in North Carolina and Virginia play pickleball in Warrenton on a regular basis.
“You can play for an hour or two and get a good cardio workout,” Brothers said.
He helped to establish organized pickleball in Roanoke Rapids and hopes to do the same in Halifax County in the near future.
“We need to keep it moving east until we get to the coast,” Brothers said.
He believes that Warren County is the most competitive pickleball location in Northern North Carolina, and hopes that more people — especially younger people — will discover the fun and exercise of the sport with the name that puts a smile on your face.
Brothers would tell them that they don’t know what they’re missing.
For more information about pickleball and how to become involved in the sport, visit the Facebook page, “Warrenton Pickleball Club of the Two Lakes NC Group.”