Dill or sour?

Dayton’s Kroc Center’s pickleball tournament

Athletes play pickleball in The Kroc Center’s offical court

By Tim Smith

There is an indoor sport called pickleball that seems to have crept in under the radar. Apparently, it has captured people’s enthusiasm on a level akin to golf. The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Dayton will hold its next Pickleball Tournament on January 5 and 6 as a fundraiser for the center.

Pickleball is a racquet sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis. Two, three, or four players use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a perforated polymer ball, similar to a whiffle ball, over a net. The sport shares features of other racquet sports, the dimensions and layout of a badminton court, and a net and rules similar to tennis, with a few modifications. Pickleball was invented in the mid-1960s as a children’s backyard pastime, but it has since become popular among adults as well.

Seth Gilley is the Assistant Manager of Recreation and Fitness at the Kroc Center in Dayton. He pointed out that the sport has a large local following. 

“We started running pickleball at the Kroc Center in September of 2016,” he says. “Our first tournament was held this past April. We had over 100 people turn out for that one. Since then, we’ve had two others, most recently our Kettlebell Kickoff tournament, where we had 90 players. Anyone 16 or over can register to play, in mixed doubles, men’s doubles, and women’s doubles.”

There are organized teams in the Miami Valley, and players often show up at facilities where pickleball is offered, hoping to team up with other enthusiasts.

“People play at different facilities throughout the area,” Gilley says. “Pickleball is governed by the United States Pickleball Association. People go to all different facilities around the area and the country. They find their partners, register for their tournament, and play. It’s like getting together a foursome for Golf.”

The pickleball court is similar to a doubles badminton court. It is striped like a tennis court, with no alleys, but the outer courts are divided in half by service lines. The floor in the Olympic-sized gym in the Kroc Center is striped per USPA regulations. The upcoming event is being used as a fundraiser for the various programs offered at the Kroc Center.

“All of the proceeds from our tourney go back into the programs we offer at the Center,” Gilley says. “We have pickleball gyms that we run every day of the week, Monday through Saturday. We hold pickleball clinics where people can come in to train and get lessons. The tournaments are the big thing we do. If they want to participate in tournaments, there is an entry fee of $25.00. This fee gets you into all levels of play.”

The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center is one of Dayton’s hidden gems. The center is intended to offer a safe environment, offering a variety of family and individual services to the community. 

“In the recreation building, we offer a wide variety of activities,” Gilley says. “We have our fitness center, where we have fitness programs and dance classes, and we also have our Olympic-size gymnasium. We have everything from pickleball to basketball, and we hold after-school recreation programs in there as well. The Salvation Army is first and foremost a church. When you walk into the main building, you see our chapel, which is the first priority of the Salvation Army. We serve everyone, from kindergarten, all the way up through adults. We do a variety of senior programs. They have a big Prime Time program they do every Tuesday. People can take fitness programs, engage in social activities, and have lunch during that time.”

Part of pickleball’s rapid growth is that it appeals to sports enthusiasts who may not be able to keep up the rigors of their chosen hobby. These include tennis buffs who can no longer cover the court, and aging racquetball and squash players who may have trouble maintaining the pace. The skills developed in tennis, racquetball, and squash carry over to pickleball. Gilley thinks that this growing enthusiasm is why there’s so much support for these tournaments.

“We’ll get family and friends who will come to play, but we’ll also get people who come to the facility just to check it out and see what we offer,” he says. “At the last tournament, we had vendors set up so people could see what products are available for the sport. The pickleball community is really a family, they know people from all around the country, and they will travel to play in tourneys. At the last one, we had teams who came all the way from Louisville, Kentucky. It’s sort of like soccer, where people travel to play in a tournament.”

Gilley hopes that the upcoming tournament serves to increase participation in the sport, as well as awareness of what the Kroc Center has to offer.

“I would like people to be able to come to this family friendly event in a Christian atmosphere, to be able to compete, stay active, make friends, and learn about pickleball, which is the fastest growing sport in America,” he says. “You know, people that are into pickleball love the sport and will take any opportunity to play.”

The Salvation Army Pickleball Tournament will be held at The Kroc Center at 1000 N. Keowee St., Dayton on Jan. 5 beginning at 10 a.m., and Jan. 6 at 9:30 a.m. For more information, write to Seth Gilley at seth.gilley@use.salvationarmy.org, or call 937.528.5100.

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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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