Like so many pickleball enthusiasts, Deonne Linenberger tried the sport and quickly got hooked. She and her husband, Tom, along with her brother and sister-in-law, first learned the game in December of 2014. They played with a group from Pass Christian for a few weeks until they’d set up a court at the Donal Snyder Community Center in Biloxi.
“Pickleball looked like a fun way to get aerobic exercise without the boredom of walking on a treadmill,” she recalls.
Today, the Linenbergers are volunteer pickleball coordinators for Biloxi and Gulfport, as well as USA Pickleball Ambassadors for Gulf Coast Mississippi. The sport has exploded in popularity nationwide, with celebrities like LeBron James and Tom Brady among the millions of fans joining the craze across the U.S.
Linenberger credits locals Ron Feldman and his wife, Anita, with introducing pickleball to Pass Christian. Now, there are more than 800 players across the three-county coastal area. The sport gained even more traction locally when the Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center hosted the American Pickleball Tour in April.
The game, which Linenberger likens to “a big game of ping pong on a badminton-sized court,” is played with a 34-inch net, smooth paddles and a whiffle ball. Players can compete as singles or doubles, and the sport can be enjoyed indoors or outdoors.
“Pickleball is unique because it is such a social sport,” Linenberger says. “All are made to feel welcome when they come to a pickleball court.”
Although people of all ages, sizes and skill levels are flocking to the game, the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) Single Sport Report on Pickleball notes that the average age of those who play regularly is 48. The number of U.S. pickleball players reached 36.5 million this year, and 40 percent of participants are women.
A smaller court means less running, and thus less wear and tear on joints, making it an attractive way for older people to stay in shape. Racket sports like pickleball also promote balance and boost the cardiovascular system, which helps head off age-related concerns such as hypertension, stroke and heart attack — providing another benefit for seniors.
Regardless of age, a good pickleball player, according to Linenberger, is someone who can develop hand-eye coordination, is in reasonably good shape, has a desire to learn something new and doesn’t take herself or the sport too seriously. The sport has grown so rapidly, she adds, because it’s affordable, easy to learn and can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It’s not uncommon for Linenberger to see multiple generations of a family on the court engaging in some friendly competition.
“Pickleball provides not only a place to smile and have fun, but it is also a healthy and active activity that improves lives mentally and physically,” Linenberger says. “Over the years, we have heard so many heartwarming stories from players about how pickleball has saved their lives from a depressing time they were going through, helped them lose weight or even introduced them to a new romance.”
To find information on locations where pickleball is available locally, with addresses and times of scheduled play, visit msgulfcoastpickleball.com.