Kathy Carhart & Paula Schuert (above)

by Emily Hollwedel , photography by Nikola Tzenov

Carroll County Joins the World of the Pickleball Revolution

A sporting revolution is underway in Carroll County, bringing together players of all ages and backgrounds in a frenzy of spirited competition.

Enter the world of pickleball, a rapidly growing sensation that has ignited a passion for friendly matches and heart-pounding rallies. From local parks to dedicated pickleball courts, this thrilling sport has taken hold, creating a vibrant community of pickleballers. As Carroll County embraces the pickleball phenomenon, it’s clear that this fast-paced game is here to stay, carving its place in the hearts of enthusiasts and leaving a mark on the local sporting landscape.

“It is a game about skill rather than endurance, a high calorie burner. It is a lot of fun, and when you finish you feel euphoric. It’s just a high-energy, positive, fun time where you can get a good sweat, and the combination makes you want to keep doing it.” –ERIKA SPALDING

According to USA Pickleball, overall membership for pickleball leagues and groups in the U.S. has increased 30% over the last year. On its 2023 factsheet, USA Pickleball reports that of the 4.8 million total pickleball participants, 3.5 million were “casual” players who play one to seven times a year and 1.4 million were “core” players who play eight or more times a year. The sport appeals to all ages — the factsheet reports that the average age of core players is 50 and the average casual player is 34 years old. And growth of total participants was the fastest among players under 24 years of age. For many pickleballers, the sport’s popularity has grown in part because it’s accessible and easy to pick up.

“It is a game about skill rather than endurance, [and] a high calorie burner,” said Erika Spalding, vice president of Dill Dinkers Pickleball Club. “It is a lot of fun, and when you finish playing you feel euphoric. It’s just a high-energy, positive, fun time where you can get a good sweat, and the combination makes you want to keep doing it.”

In fact, Dill Dinkers is already making strides to reach the growing community in Carroll County — the Maryland-based business recently purchased a former tennis center in Finksburg and turned it into a pickleball club, which opened in May.

Back in early 2020, when COVID-19 first shut down the world, people were scrambling for even a semblance of connection and activity. Suddenly, they found it. In pickleball, there was an answer: a non-contact sport that kept players moving and social in a time when both of those ideas seemed impossible. Add in the easy access to courts or areas to play, equipment, and interested players, and according to Bill Gill, a Professional Pickleball Registry (PPR)-certified instructor and competitive player, the sport grew exponentially.

“Pickleball has an evangelical aspect. … I feel like that’s what has pushed people in that direction. … It took a huge foothold and people realized they could play this game with people of all ages and people started to break off into different groups,” Gill noted. “But people can play it for fun and for exercise. … If everybody plays safely, it’s a sport that can really be something for everybody.”

Carroll County Parks and Recreation offers a variety of lessons, leagues, and tournaments in all corners of the county, and they are not alone — there are also independent clubs forming their own spaces to teach and play.

Dill Dinkers in Finksburg is working to build a community around the sport. In addition to pickleball play, they offer social activities and events including happy hours, holiday celebrations and brunches. As Spalding puts it, people are welcome to come out and “play pickleball, have a good time … and a little bit more.”

Gill, who teaches pickleball classes in Westminster and Mt. Airy, said he sees the sport’s growth firsthand as both a player and instructor.

“My classes are always full. The Carroll County Pickleball Facebook page [has] grown to almost 1,000 participants,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve grown with, and a lot of other people are, and I hope that growth continues.”

Want to know how to get started and where to play? The parks department and many local parks and recreation programs offer clinics, classes and leagues. Visit their websites to find upcoming opportunities. Many of Carroll’s senior centers also have indoor courts and some have classes and leagues.

There are also private organizations and clubs, like Dill Dinkers, that offer pickleball play and community.