The Mount Pleasant Pickleball Group sets up three courts at each group meeting, allowing 12 members to play at a time at Morey Courts. Sophie Bates
On any given day Morey Courts is a cacophony of sounds echoing and reverberating throughout the sports complex: athletic shoes screech against the gym floor, basketballs boom as they’re dribbled up the court, and athletes thwack volleyballs out of the air. Yet, if you listen closely, underneath that chaos is the hallmark sound of an unlikely sport rising to popularity. The sound: the hollow ping of whiffle balls against a paddle. The sport: pickleball.
Reminiscent of tennis or badminton, pickleball is a relatively easy, low-impact sport that has become a favorite among seniors. In recent years, though, the sport has become popular with younger crowds as well, making it one of the fastest growing sports in the country, according to the USA Pickleball Association.
The Mt. Pleasant Pickleball Group seems to be a continuation of this trend; in the two-and-a-half years since Barry Alford and Al Montoye founded the group, membership has nearly quintupled, going from about a dozen to 60 members.
Members of the Mount Pleasant Pickleball Group touch paddles after each game as a sign of sportsmanship and camaraderie at Morey Courts.
They are an eclectic bunch, ranging from 16 years old to 80 years old. Despite their obvious differences in age, experience, and physical ability, the members of the Mt. Pleasant Pickleball Group have an easy rapport that adds a layer of fun and humor to the court’s noisy atmosphere.
“This is a welcoming group, we’re happy to have anyone come who’s interested in learning to play,” says Alford.
During the winter, the group meets on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 5:30 p.m. to play games of two-on-two at Morey Courts.
Lucas LaPoe, one of the Mount Pleasant Pickleball Group's youngest members, prepares to serve the ball at Morey Courts.
Leila Jolene, a 16-year-old from Pittsburg, is the group’s youngest member and comes to play when she’s in Mount Pleasant visiting her Aunt. When her Aunt first suggested she try the sport, Jolene was skeptical. She didn’t know how to play and, quite frankly, she thought the sport was only for the elderly. However, she was pleasantly surprised by the group members’ vitality, kindness, and willingness to teach her how to play.
“It’s been really fun. Everyone here is so nice and encouraging,” says Jolene. “It’s nice to hang out with people who have a different view on life and who have been around longer than I have.”
Barb Bentivolio — a 62-year-old who joined the group looking for a fun, social setting after moving to Mt. Pleasant — is similarly delighted by the group’s diversity of ages.
“It’s funny because people think that pickleball is for older people but really its great playing with different ages,” says Bentivolio. “I like seeing the younger people coming to play.”
Bentivolio says her favorite part of the group is ‘meeting different people and learning a little bit about everyone.’ Alford and Montoye intentionally made sure that group members would have a chance to mingle and meet one another by rotating partners.
A member of the Mount Pleasant Pickleball Group tenses in preparation as his opponent hits the ball at Morey Courts.
“One of the more socially cohesive things that occurs over time is that you play with everyone. You don’t have one partner that you play with and that’s it,” says Alford. “Of the 60 people who are in the group I’ve probably played with them all.”
It’s also important to Alford and Montoye that the group’s primary focus not be competition, but fun and relaxation.
“As soon as you make it highly competitive then it takes the fun out of the game,” says Montoye. “People become unhappy with how their performing.”
“It’s fun. There’s enough silliness in it because it’s a whiffle ball,” says Alford. “It’s hard to get serious about a sport with a whiffle ball.”