By Conrad Dudderar
Competitive pickleball is moving outdoors in Yukon.
Anyone who visits the Jackie Cooper Gym on weekday mornings knows how popular this sport has become in Yukon.
The City of Yukon facility, 1024 E Main, now has six indoor courts that are used for pickleball.
A contractor is now making renovations to Yukon’s outdoor tennis courts at Yukon City Park and Kimbell Park, which will have six courts marked for pickleball as well. Project completion is expected in less than a month.
“We’re seeing new courts being built all over,” said Brandon Mackie, co-founder of Pickleheads. “We’ve been watching the sport grow like crazy in Yukon. Yukon and greater Oklahoma City has become such a hot spot.
“We’ve seen a 10x growth in the sport over the last couple years.”
Invented in 1955 in a vacation town outside Seattle, Wash., pickleball is a sport that combines elements of ping-pong, tennis and badminton.
Players use plastic paddles to hit a perforated polymer ball over the net.
“It’s a game played similar to tennis, but the scoring is closer to badminton or volleyball,” Mackie said. “A lot of the game play happens up near the net, so it can become a fast-paced game.
“It’s tons of fun and almost anyone can get the feel of it. It doesn’t have that technical nature like golf and tennis.”
Yukon has an active pickleball group – a “west wing” of the Greater Oklahoma City Pickleball Club – that plays regularly at the Jackie Cooper Gym.
“There’s a good, thriving community that started at the grassroots level,” Mackie pointed out.
The group’s leader is Carma Branscum, a retired Yukon physical education teacher who predicts participation will climb significantly when the outdoor courts at Yukon City Park and Kimbell Park open.
“At the Jackie Cooper Gym, we’re limited to six courts, but we’ve been having an average of 38 to 40 people come out,” Branscum said. “Our players are primarily from Yukon, but we also have people from Oklahoma City, El Reno, Moore, Midwest City, Edmond, and other communities who come to Yukon to play.
“We always welcome anyone who wants to play and get the experience.”
Pickleball is the largest sport by number of participants (48.3 million) in the United States – twice the size of tennis and larger than golf and basketball.
“We’re seeing just an explosion of new facilities,” Pickleheads’ Mackie emphasized. “Not only with Parks and Rec retrofitting tennis courts or building new pickleball courts, but entire entertainment concepts like Chicken N Pickle for birthday parties and corporate events.”
The company has a venue at 8400 N Oklahoma Ave. in Oklahoma City and is expanding rapidly.
“That’s something local residents are fortunate to have; they’re only in a few cities nationwide,” Mackie said. “That’s been a big driver, and it’s brought a lot of attention and interest to the sport.”
WHY SO POPULAR?
Mackie talked about why pickleball’s popularity has spiked – in Yukon and across the country.
The first reason is that the sport is just so easy to learn.
“Anyone can go out the first time; it doesn’t matter if they have racquet sports experience or athletic ability,” said Mackie, a competitive tennis player who started pickleball three years ago. “They can learn the game, learn the rules, have fun, and even win games their first time out there.
“That’s a big part of the magic. People go out for their first time. They have fun and they want to come back. And that creates this snowballing effect of people coming back to play, day in day out, week in week out.”
The second primary reason is the social nature of pickleball, largely due to its open-play format and paddle-rotation system. It’s more than a sport for many players – it’s a social event.
“It provides lots of opportunities to meet people,” Mackie noted. “You might play with 10 different people a day.”
The Pickleheads’ site (www.pickleheads.com) covers all things pickleball, offering a free virtual clinic and series of short videos.
“We are a resource for players,” Mackie said. “We have the largest directory of pickleball courts of any site in the country.
“We’ve become a go-to resource for anyone who wants to find a place to play pickleball in their area. We not only help people find where to play, but also who to play with and when to play.”
Pickleheads also offers free tools for pickleball organizers that allow them to set up tournaments and run competitive events.
The goal is simple – to help people play more pickleball.
“I hope everybody gets a chance to try it because it’s a ton of fun,” Mackie said. “Go hit the courts!”