Members of the Tellico Village Pickleball Club teamed up Thursday with youth at the Boys & Girls Club of Loudon County to introduce and practice the growing game of pickleball.

The program started three years ago when TVPBC member Jean Haupt brought forth the idea to the Good Neighbors Shoppe’s board of directors.

“I’m a volunteer at the Good Neighbor Shoppe and I got our board to give us money for the nets, balls, paddles and to paint the lines,” Haupt said. “Then, I got the Tellico Village Pickleball Club teamed up with Shawn (Snyder) to help paint the lines and get things going. The Pickleball Club has been very supportive of the play, and we’ve gotten a lot of volunteers to help out.”

Haupt believed it was important to introduce the sport to children due to its simplicity and entertainment value.

“It was to get these boys and girls involved with pickleball because it’s a very easy sport to pick up,” Haupt said. “Once they pick it up, they can easily have a lot of fun with it. We team each child up with an adult so that they can give some pointers and it’s been working real well. The kids and the volunteers all enjoy it.”

Dean Deatherage, Boys and Girls Club of Loudon County executive director, believes the program has been beneficial.

“First of all, it’s a lifetime sport,” Deatherage said. “You’ll see some of the folks that are playing with them are well into their 70s and still in great shape. An important thing with this program has been the mentorship from the Tellico Village Pickleball Club — just getting them together, teaching the kids the game and just having so much fun. This actually started before I took over and as long as I’ve been here, it’s been a no-brainer to keep it going because it’s so good for everybody involved.”

Adriana and Shawn Vasquez are siblings and started playing pickleball with the club two years ago.

“It’s just been a good exercise and a lot of fun,” Adriana said. “It’s also been cool because I’ve made new friends through it.”

“I first liked it because it was called pickleball,” Shawn added. “It sounded like a lot of fun. We’ve both been playing for two years.”

Each year, TVPBC holds a spring and fall tournament for members and guests. Since the inclusion of the Boys & Girls Club three years ago, youth have been invited to participate in the tournaments.

“This gives them a chance to work toward something,” Deatherage said. “They’ve really enjoyed those tournaments. They get to go out to Tellico Village and play on their courts, which are really nice. In fact, Adriana actually placed last year and won a medal with Sally Crockett, so that was awesome.”

John and Sally Crockett have been members of the TVPBC for a year and have volunteered weekly at the Boys & Girls Club.

“I’m a former school teacher and so is my wife, so it’s really nice to work with young people,” John said. “You see a lot of growth from one year to the next. In fact, you see growth week to week. I think competition is good for kids, and I think having some older adults working with them is a real nurturing thing for them to do.”

Crockett believes the tournament is a great experience for youth interested in the game.

“It’s an eye-opening experience for the kids,” he said. “They get to see a lot of older adults playing, having fun and interacting with each other. Everybody wants to win, but it’s also a social time for people, which is good for kids to see. Our tournaments are very well ran, and that makes the experience even better for the kids that get to play in them.”

Both sides plan to continue to work together to grow interest in the game.

“We’ve had a lot more interest than we’ve been able to serve,” Deatherage said. “The young ones see it, and they may not be able to pick it up as much as the older ones. They’re such a high-risk group, so it’s good for them to have mentors and have older people to look up to. The kids coming up that are just under the grades that we offer it to, they’re looking over the balconies and peaking through the doors to watch these practices. They love it, and they haven’t even started playing yet. We’d love to keep this going and get more kids involved.”

For more information on the Tellico Village Pickleball Club, visit http://tvpbc-gameon.org.