Tellico Villagers interested in giving a new activity a try can drop in at the Wellness Center pickleball courts this month and learn the ropes.

The initiative is part of the Tellico Village Pickleball Club’s celebration of National Pickleball Month, and hopes are to bring a few new players on board.

“The goal is to increase awareness and participation in pickleball,” Rich Karakis, club president, said. “Tellico Village has some spectacular, really great, tournament-level courts here.”

Typically those interested in learning the game will sign up with the club and go through an orientation class before being assigned to a skill level group, which is provided daily times on the courts.

To make learning the game even easier, the club is hosting drop-in times 2-4 p.m. Wednesdays in April and April 22-26.

“It’s going to allow people, anybody in the Village who is not a member of the rec center, who’s not a member (of the pickleball club), to just stop by and see what it’s all about,” Karakis said. “We’ll put a paddle in their hand … and we’ll get them on the court and let them start whacking the ball around to get a feel for it.”

Club members will be available during each drop-in session to provide instruction on rules and how to play.

“It really is great for the people in the Village to make it as easy as possible for them to kick the tires and test drive the sport,” Karakis said.

This is the second year the club has hosted the drop-in sessions. TVPC gained about 10-15 new members as a result last year.

The Wellness Center also added members because of the sessions last year, but Simon Bradbury, recreation director, is focused on providing a service rather than driving membership.

“People come in and want to try different things. We want to make it simple,” Bradbury said. “We do that with kayaks and paddleboards as well. Tennis is starting to do that. We do that with our yoga classes. We do things to make it simple just to come try it, give it a shot. What they’ve done is gone a couple of steps further, and now they’ve got people who are scheduled to work with them and give them some skills. We’re big fans of it. It’s not about so much making money or revenue for the memberships. That’s good if that happens, but it’s really about exposing people to it and letting them see how fun it is.”

Growth of the game

Pickleball has seen steady growth since the club was formed in Tellico Village, and the group currently boasts more than 700 members.

But that isn’t just a local trend. Karakis serves as a regional ambassador for the United States Pickleball Association. The nationwide growth rate is also high, he said.

Bradbury agreed, noting pickleball is the first topic of conversation when other recreation professionals learn he works in Tellico Village.

Three big reasons for the growth are that the game is social, inexpensive and easy to learn, Karakis said.

“It started out in the Pacific Northwest and retirees picked up on it big time,” he said. “… What’s happened now is the sport has caught on, and it’s just driven downward. There’s now a U.S. Open, which is televised on CBS Sports. There’s pros in the game now.”

The Village club has done its part to spread the game, introducing it to the Boys & Girls Club of Loudon County. The group is now working with Loudon and Lenoir City recreation departments to reach further into local communities.

As a result of growth in the Village, Bradbury hopes to expand the facilities in the future.

“We’re hoping it grows here shortly into an enclosed facility for tennis and pickleball, climate-controlled,” he said. “It’s that big of an activity. … I have a placeholder for it in the five-year capital plan. Right now we’re doing a master plan study as we speak and that’s one of the things that we’ll be assessing is what makes sense for the facilities. We’ll be taking a hard look at having an enclosed facility.”

For more information on the pickleball club, visit http://tvpbc-gameon.org/.