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America’s fastest growing sport you’ve never heard of

NORTH LIBERTY– Ron Stiers rarely leaves the house without donning a shirt that represents his favorite sport, Pickleball.
The rear window of his truck spells “USA Pickleball Association” in large lettering, and he has personalized cards that passes around to anyone he meets. For Stiers, it’s all for the love of the game.
“It’s the most popular sport that nobody’s ever heard of,” Stiers said.
Stiers, a resident of North Liberty since 1975, is not simply a fan of the growing sport. He is the Director of Ambassadors for the USA Pickleball Association in the Great Lakes Region. With the help of Stiers and other local ambassadors, North Liberty once again successfully hosted a regional Pickleball tournament Sunday, July 7, at Penn Meadows Park.
“We got players from all over,” Stiers said. “If there’s Pickleball, and you’re a Pickleball player, you’ll find a place to play and you’ll go play.”
Large groups of eager Pickleballers showed up to the courts early Sunday morning before the tournament start time of 10 a.m. The sun beamed down powerfully on the athletes, mostly senior citizens, but they showed no signs of fatigue. Apparently, the game is just too much fun.
Stiers said it is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, especially among seniors. If you haven’t heard of it by now, it’s only a matter of time before Stiers or one of the other ambassadors hands you a card with more information.
The sport is a mixture of tennis, ping-pong, and badminton, but is truly a game of its own. The rules are tennis-esque, but on a smaller court with paddles that resemble those used in ping-pong, and players use a baseball-sized whiffle ball— none of which explain the name “pickle.”
According to some Pickleball historianas, Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell created the game in the backyard in 1965. Pritchard had a dog named “Pickles,” who had a knack for fetching the whiffle ball while the kids were playing. As the invention of the game started to take off, the dog’s persistence in stealing the ball led to the name of a newfound sport, Pickleball.
The game is very accessible, and is fun for all ages to play. Ambassador Steve Stone said the game is designed on positioning on the court and finesse, which allows those with limited agility to be competitive. Stone said the game has a social structure to it that allows players to rotate and play against different opponents.
“We got a lot of seniors out here that played sports when they were younger, and as we look we can see some that have knee braces, they don’t move as well,” Stone said. “This game is very user friendly.”
There were approximately 60 players at the North Liberty regional tournament in July, one man who even journeyed from South Carolina. Diana Schafer, who visited from Hiawatha, was just one of the many senior athletes at Penn Meadows park who showed a spring in their step for Pickleball.
“I love the way it’s active, it’s not for just old people, it’s a quick game, and it’s just fun,” Schafer said. “Everybody has a good time.”
The game is being recognized in Iowa, and across the globe. Stiers, who began playing 7 years ago, has seen it grow over the years and hopes for a continued pattern moving forward.
Judging by the turnout on Sunday, it looks like Stiers has little to worry about. For the second year in a row, Pickleball fanatics have found a home in North Liberty.
“It’s addictive. We cannot get enough of it,” Stiers said. “We would play 24/7, year-round if we could. For seniors, it’s literally saved our lives because otherwise we’d just get old.”