INDIANAPOLIS — Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the country, and central Indiana is no exception, according to USA Pickleball.
Nationwide, pickleball grew last year to 4.8 million players, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. That's almost double the number from just five years ago.
Indy Parks has dozens of pickleball courts. Oftentimes, tennis courts are converted for pickleball.
"I think anybody can play. If you can play tennis, if you can play ping pong, you can play badminton, you can play pickleball," said Shawn Cowherd, manager of Windsor Village Park.
Friends Judi Wilham and Mary Ellen Linne started playing five years ago for fun, fellowship and exercise.
"People understand when I say, 'I'm going to play pickleball,' they know what I'm talking about. They used to not have a clue. My doctor even started playing," Wilham said.
At Windsor Village Park, players range from ages 10 to 86 years old. The sport welcomes all skill levels and ages.
"I got hooked on it right away. The first time I came, I started playing, and I never quit," Linne said. "The comradery, this group is so friendly and welcoming, and we just have a great time."
The COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine restrictions played a role in the sport's popularity.
In Carmel, Rick Witsken, of Midwest Pickleball Club, made the transition from professional tennis to professional pickleball.
This past year, Witsken has won 15 tournaments.
"When I started 10 years ago, it was really about older people playing the sport. Now, oh my gosh, the biggest demographic of growth is actually between 19 and 25," Witsken said.
Witsken said he's started the first middle school pickleball league in the country out of Zionsville.