Fauquier County Pickleball Association keeps up with the growing popularity of their sport
“I found out about Pickleball when we moved to Suffield Meadows in Warrenton,” said Joyce Najjar, Fauquier County resident and Pickleball devotee. “We had a neighbor who came back from Florida just raving about this new sport. We all laughed at the name of the game and the thought of playing it. Somehow he came across Morris Wheat, and found out about Wheat’s group that played the game at Auburn Middle School, and he said ‘you just have to come over and see this.’ That’s when we met Morris, and that was the beginning.” Wheat, the Pickleball enthusiast who is credited with bringing the sport to Fauquier County in 2007, is known as Fauquier’s “Pickleball ambassador at large.” Joyce said, “Morris gets the credit for really just grabbing people off the street, and getting people involved and playing the sport.”
The group remained informal until about three years ago, when Fauquier County Pickleball Association was formed as a not-for-profit organization. “This enabled us to reserve court time through the Fauquier County Department of Parks and Recreation,” said Joyce. “Since then there’s been a lot of hard work gone into recruiting players, teaching people, and running the organization.” Joyce’s husband, Bob Najjar, is the president of FCPA.
Pickleball, according to many news sources, is one of the fastest growing sports in the country, and in the world. FCPA certainly feels it’s the fastest growing sport in Fauquier County. “It’s just exploding,” said Joyce. “Maybe we’ll see it soon in the Olympics.” It is one of the sports offered at the local Northern Virginia Senior Olympics every fall.
What, exactly, is Pickleball?
It is said to have started as a backyard game invented by a father and friend with children who were bored. Unable to find a shuttlecock for badminton, they lowered the net and played using a wiffle ball, with table tennis paddles. The rules evolved as they played, and as for the name…well, it’s said that their dog, named Pickles, was somehow involved.
Pickleball is a racquet sport encompassing aspects of tennis, racquetball, badminton and table tennis. It’s played on a court (most often a tennis court, although the dimensions are a little smaller at 44’ x 20’) with a 34-36” net, either indoors or outdoors. The polymer balls are similar to a wiffle ball, but they are a little weightier, and the game is played with a solid paddle instead of a racquet.
Fast-paced and exciting for spectators, as well as players, the game makes for great exercise and fun. It’s easy to learn and has a low impact on your body. Tennis and racquetball skills are easily transferable. “I played varsity tennis in high school and college, many years playing tennis, squash, badminton and racquetball. Playing these sports make transition to Pickleball very easy,” said Bob Moe, vice president of FCPA.
While pickleball is fun for any age — FCPA has players ranging in age from ‘teens to ‘80s — some older players have found the sport to be a good niche for them. Compared to tennis, it’s a little easier on the body, with lower impact on the joints. “The pickleball doesn’t have rubber in it, so it’s not bouncing as high or as much as a tennis ball. You don’t have to chase it quite as much, so there’s not as much running,” explained Joyce. The ball is served underhand, which is easier for those with shoulder problems. FCPA secretary Randy Mantiply explained, “Because pickleball has more nuance and strategic elements than tennis, you can quickly become competitive without needing a powerful serve or a powerful overhead.” It’s a good, aerobic exercise all the same: “If someone is interested in maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle, Pickleball shines. Those of us that wear fitness trackers see impressive numbers. I can see 5000+ steps after several games, and depending on the level of play, you can get your heart rate over 100 easily,” said Joyce.
Playing Pickleball in Fauquier County
With this open and welcoming group that is eager to spread their enthusiasm for the game, picking up pickleball in Fauquier County is informal and easy, with no special equipment needed to start. “Pretty much anyone can play the game, you just need to have some hand-eye coordination and balance,” explained Joyce. “We loan racquets to new players and tell them to try it out for a couple of times, and if they like pickle ball and stay with us, they’ll get their own. You have to wear the proper shoes, of course; we recommend court shoes to absorb the running and to keep you stable and balanced.”
“We label our courts as social, intermediate, and advanced; the social court is for those playing more for fun and sociability, and for those just beginning. When someone comes in with no knowledge of the game, everyone pitches in to give them basic instruction. Our group is just wonderful with the newbies, and very encouraging.” While more formal lessons are something the association would like to offer in the future, right now it’s the members who support new players. “You get the attention that you need to get started,” Joyce said. “We start you off, it’s not hard to learn, and we guide you along until you soar.”
According to Joyce, “The more one plays the game, the better they get at it. So we encourage people to move up as they see fit. Some people just don’t want to be that competitive, they enjoy the camaraderie and the sociability as they work on their game, so that’s fine…we have all levels. We do have some level four players, and they are amazing to watch. If people are motivated to play competitively, there are tournaments in Virginia and Maryland. We circulate all that information to anyone who wants to play in a tournament.”
In Fauquier County, it’s all about the community and the camaraderie. It’s very much a social activity as well as a sport. “We’ve noticed the friendships that come with this. It’s just wonderful. If you were in with a group, you’ll hear a lot of laughter, and fun comments…people take the game seriously, but on different levels. We have social activities during the year. Recently one of our players organized a wine/beer event at Barrel Oak Winery. A monthly social on the first Saturday of the month at Vint Hill is open to the public…anyone can come, bring an appetizer, and play or watch pickleball. This is one of our outreach programs.”
The Fauquier group has grown immensely since its inception. What started out as a few folks getting together to play informally has grown into an association of 85+ members who play three days a week on three tennis courts at Auburn Middle School. Once school starts, they will play in the evening, and then in the early fall they play indoors on three courts at the Vint Hill Recreation Center. FCPA is trying to keep up with the growth of the sport in the county. They are adding an additional day to their schedule, and they are hoping to bring pickle ball to the Marshall Community Center one morning a week. But more playing venues continue to be needed.
A look at other communities shows the rapid growth and popularity of the sport. Karen Gray, FCPA member, says, “We have spent the last two winters in The Villages, Florida where pickleball is extremely popular, with over 200 courts. Our hope is that Fauquier County will realize the importance of the game and provide us with additional facilities.” Mantiply is hopeful that pickleball will continue to grow in the county, and along with this growth, he hopes that more and better courts will become available. “There are lots of unused or rarely used tennis courts just begging to be converted into pickleball courts, as neighboring areas have done,” he suggested.
Many pickleball players prefer playing on indoor courts, so the weather is not a factor. But the county has limited indoor playing venues, according to Joyce. The Vint Hill facility is quite old, so FCPA is working with the Parks and Recreation department to enhance the playing conditions with better lighting and improved playing surfaces. Due to budget restrictions within the county, the Fauquier County Pickleball Association has agreed to financially support the improvement of the playing surface at Vint Hill and has committed to a portion of the cost. Funds are still needed to complete the job.
Joyce concluded, “This is my game now. It’s fun and so aerobic. In some ways it’s more challenging than tennis. I play about two to three times per week. It’s addictive, especially as you get more adept, because you want to keep getting better. Then, there are the laughs, and the friendships that we form. It’s like any sport that gets the blood moving, it’s just energizing.” Mantiply added, “Just be warned, all the fun of pickleball makes it pretty addictive.”