Margie James stretches to make a shot during a game of pickleball with Kris Allen as her teammate. The sport has grown in popularity in Pugwash since it was introduced by a few fans late last year. Raissa Tetanish photo

PUGWASH – Twice a week, the gym at Pugwash District High School gets transformed into pickleball courts.

On nights when those courts are too full, the players of the popular sport will also utilize the tennis courts a couple of streets away.

Rod Young started playing the sport, which is similar to tennis, ping pong, and badminton, roughly four years ago while in Florida.

“It’s huge in Florida,” he said, just as pickleball players were trickling in for one of the two two-hour nights offered each week.

For Wayne Reid, his introduction came about two years ago in Springhill.

“I used to run the adult badminton league here, and I really wanted to try it here to see if it would rejuvenate the sport,” said Reid.

It was around mid-October when pickleball offerings started in Pugwash, and are now offered through the Northumberland Tennis and Pickleball Association.

 “It sort of started to blossom right away here,” said Reid. “On our biggest night, we had 38 people. We had so many, some went and played outside. We have a strong tennis group in town, and there are some common players between tennis and pickleball.”

The sport, said Young, is playable for all ages, from young children up to those in their 80’s and 90’s. The local players range from their 20’s up to the 80’s.

“Pickleball is a lot of fun,” said Young. “It’s a very social sport and a great sport to get to know people.”

Bethanie Clarke has been addicted to the sport since she first tried it in November. Reid and Young both say Clarke is one of the biggest supporters in the local area of the sport.

“I love the people,” she said. “The majority of these people I wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for pickleball. It got me out of my comfort zone, it gets you out of your box. Everyone is so welcoming, warm, and friendly, and they are one of the main reasons I come back again and again.”

With pickleball only gaining in popularity in the Pugwash area over the last few months, Reid said the ultimate goal is to have a new facility constructed. The tennis courts, he said, are in bad shape, so they’d love to see a facility built to house both tennis and pickleball.

“You can easily convert tennis courts into pickleball courts,” said Young, adding their easily combined due to the nature of the sport. “Here, we have 60 plus people jointly between the two sports. It would be viable, feasible, and easier to get done with the groups combined. There’s a lot of that conversion in Florida, for example, where the tennis courts duo as pickleball courts.”

When it comes to pickleball, players use a wiffle ball and paddles. The court dimensions are almost identical to badminton, and rules are similar to rural badminton rules – you can only score when serving. Games are played to 11 points, but you have to win by two points.

The pickleball players gather twice a week – Sundays and Tuesdays, 7-9 p.m. – at the Pugwash District High School gym. Everyone interested in learning about the sport are welcome to drop in. There is a $2 drop-in fee, or annual memberships are available for $20 per person. For those wishing to try the sport, some basic equipment is available to use to get started. Those who continue in the sport usually purchase their own equipment.

For more information, visit the Northumberland Tennis and Pickleball Association’s page on Facebook.

The association is hosting a tournament Sept. 21 and 22. The four categories of play will include men’s and women’s doubles on Saturday, with mixed doubles and recreational play on Sunday. Competitive play teams are being limited to 12 per category, with 30 players in recreational play.

More information on the tournament will be available in the coming weeks on the Facebook page.