Residents packed the Wellness Center over the weekend to participate in the Tellico Village Pickleball Club Tournament.

The tournament kicked off Friday evening with men’s and women’s singles competition, followed by men’s and women’s doubles Saturday and mixed doubles Sunday.

“First of all, it’s an in-house tournament, so it’s like the club championships — we don’t have people from the outside coming in,” Rich Karakis, TVPBC president, said. “We broke it down by skill and age. We had over 115 people participating. The singles, it was just a dandy. It went to the finals, and they had four players and three tied the number of games. We had to go to a third tiebreak, so it was good competition.”

Dean Varillas, TVPBC member, is a seasoned player and enjoyed competing against fellow members.

“It’s nice because you get to play with people you don’t normally play with, which is exciting,” Varillas said. “Just to see the new blood, every year and every tournament, there’s always new members that are joining different types of play, different quality of play. All that leads to the excitement and never knowing what you’re up against. You have a tendency to pretty much play with the same people week in and week out, so any sort of tournament — this one or the big one where we have people join from all over, it’s just fun.”

With more than 700 members, it’s the largest club in the Village and one of the largest organized pickleball clubs in the United States.

Karakis has seen tremendous growth within the last two years.

“We’re probably pressing for space because with all the players, we can only use eight courts,” he said. “It’s really caught on, and more and more people are moving here because of the pickleball. That seems to be something that’s becoming more and more popular, and people are looking for places to play. I think our courts are absolutely beautiful, they’re linked up, you’re not spilling over into other courts, they’re lighted ... I think that’s one of the reasons we’re real pleased with the participation.”

Players of all skill levels are able to join the club, and the club’s diversity is a primary selling point for prospective members.

“Oh my gosh, I think we’re by far the fastest-growing club in the Village,” Varillas said. “We’ve got over 700 paid members, which is really exciting, and they’re all at different levels ... I’m talking like from A1 all the way down to Cs and different age groups and different physical capabilities. It’s really nice to be able to see that sort of activity. I also know we’re doing a lot of marketing and promotions of our pickleball community nationwide to get people to come to the Village, so it’s a facilitator.”

Not only has the sport taken root in the Village, but the club has worked to grow the game in Loudon County. TVPBC members visit the Boys & Girls Club of Loudon County every year to help teach the sport to a younger generation.

In addition, the club recently teamed up with Loudon Parks and Recreation Department to help create some impromptu courts in Loudon.

“We worked with Ramey (Lyle, parks and recreation program coordinator), and he got lines painted on the courts and got some outdoor nets,” Karakis said. “We have people at the Boys & Girls Club. As a matter of fact, we brought in a couple of kids for our open tournament and one of the girls actually medaled. Their program is getting ready to start now. ... Hopefully, we’ll get some more of them in the spring.”