By Conrad Dudderar
A sport surging in popularity across the U.S. has become quite the craze in Yukon.
Four mornings each week, a group of enthusiastic competitors converge on Yukon’s Jackie Cooper Gym – which transforms into pickleball courts.
Pickleball is a combination of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. Players use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a perforated polymer ball (much like a wiffle ball) over a net.
Yukon’s pickleball league plays from 9 a.m. to noon Mondays through Thursdays inside the City of Yukon’s Jackie Cooper Gym, 1024 E Main. There’s no charge to join and everyone is welcome to check it out.
“We give free lessons because we represent the Greater Oklahoma City Pickleball Club,” said Yukon Pickleball Club coordinator Carma Branscum.
“We now have 18 to 26 players come out on a regular basis. Sometimes we have six courts going.”
Since the sport is played on a court that is considerably smaller than a tennis court, pickleball is easier on the knees and hips than tennis and other court sports like basketball.
“It’s a great exercise for all the muscle groups,” said Branscum, a retired 31-year Yukon physical education teacher. “You can move as much as you want to on the court.
“There’s all skill levels here. It doesn’t matter if you have beginning, intermediate or advanced skills. There’s a place for everyone.”
Branscum works closely with Donna McLean, ambassador of the Greater Oklahoma City Pickleball Club.
Pickleball participation grew at a rate of 21.3% from 2019 to 2020, according to the Sports & Industry Association.
“It’s one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States right now,” Branscum emphasized.
There are more than 4.2 million pickleball players, according to data from USA Pickleball.
Pickleball players from cities across Oklahoma and even other states will stop by the Jackie Cooper Gym to check out the local pickleball league while visiting Yukon.
‘KEEPS YOU ACTIVE’
Yukon’s Nancy Easterling and her daughter Dawn Womack, of Tuttle, just started playing pickleball about six weeks ago.
And now they’re hooked.
Easterling had gone to Yukon’s senior center inside the Dale Robertson Center to find a bridge game. That’s when she was told about Yukon’s pickleball group.
“I’m really active and it sounded like fun to me,” Easterling said. “As soon as we played one time, we went and bought paddles.”
Easterling, who is retired, tries to play every Monday through Thursday.
Womack is a nurse practitioner and joins her mother at the pickleball courts when she’s off work. They enjoy the fast pace and are having a great time.
“We just love pickleball,” Easterling shared. “It’s such good exercise, and it’s fun. It’s just a fabulous game and it keeps you active.
“Pickleball is so much better than playing tennis. The pickleball court is much smaller so there’s less area to cover and it’s not hard or your knees or anything else.”
Since Yukon’s “pickleballers” play indoors at the Jackie Cooper Gym, the league meets year-round.
“This is a perfect place,” Branscum reported. “People who come from other cities tell us this is one of the best venues they’ve been to because of the flooring and there’s plenty of space in here.”
Yukon Pickleball Club members hope to eventually have outdoor pickleball courts at a city park or other local venue to allow more people to participate – even at night under the lights.
“If we have more places to play, it would be more available to everybody,” Branscum said. “I taught pickleball in school, but there was no place for kids to play it.”
Outdoor pickleball courts have been popping up at RV (recreational vehicle) parks across the U.S.
Anyone interested in playing pickleball in Yukon is encouraged to stop by the Jackie Cooper Gym.
“We’re here in the mornings, four days a week,” Branscum noted. “We have paddles people can use. Then, if they like it and think pickleball is something they want to do, they can buy their own paddle.”
A pickleball paddle costs between $50 and several hundred dollars.