Pickleball grows in popularity in Wisconsin

PORT WASHINGTON — Pickleball is gaining popularity in southeast Wisconsin.

Neil Friedenberg owns pickleball company ProLite in Port Washington. He told WUWM-FM that there's been a local youth movement enjoying pickleball, which was once seen as an "old person's sport."

"It's not, 'What is pickleball?' anymore. It's people saying, 'Oh I've heard of that' or, 'I played in gym class,'" he said.

Pickleball is a tennis-like game played on a badminton-sized court. Players use a paddle resembling a giant pingpong paddle and a plastic ball similar to a whiffle ball.

Friedenberg's company ProLite was the first to make a composite paddle in 1984. The paddle offers a lightweight alternative to the wooden paddle.

But the sport dates back to 1965.

Since it's fairly new, Friedenberg believes the game has the potential to be more accessible than other racket sports with histories of exclusionary policies.

"I see it growing. Right now, they estimate about 3 million people are playing this game. That's just an estimate," Friedenberg said. "There's probably people playing off the grid here that are not accounted for ... 10 million people, within the next couple years, I think, is very realistic."

He's seen the game grow in Wisconsin and internationally. There have been pickleball tournaments in Finland, Sweden, Spain and Mexico. Friedenberg recently met up with pickleball crew in India. They hosted clinics in Mumbai and Jaipur.

Pickleball has also been seen to have various health benefits.

"It helps my lung capacity," said Darlene Baker, 67. "But I've known a lot of people that have various issues whether it's asthma or running or you know their hearts, a lot of heart issues, that play pickleball. Just for the health."

Baker said she started playing pickleball to help her cope with a form of tuberculosis, but she has kept playing for the great company.

"I don't care where you go. I've played pickleball in Ohio, Missouri, everywhere," she said. "People are nice."