NORTH SMITHFIELD – The sport has exploded in popularity in Florida, and thanks to some new courts at North Smithfield High School, town residents will get their chance to learn how to play the game with a funny name this summer.
Adult pickleball lessons will begin in North Smithfield on Sunday, June 12, with a beginner/intermediate clinic to be held weekly from 6 to 7 p.m. through July 4, followed by round robin match play from 7 to 8 p.m.
On Mondays, starting June 13, a session exclusively for beginners will take place from 9 to 10 a.m.
The four week session costs $50, with lessons taught by certified pickleball Coach Marissa Pitrone.
For those unfamiliar with the sport, pickelball was created by combining elements of several other racket sports, using a ball similar to a Wiffle ball; a court similar to badminton; a net like the one used in tennis; and paddles most closely resembling those found in table tennis. The game was first created in 1965 at the Bainbridge Island, Wash, summer home of Joel Pritchard, who later served as congressman and lieutenant governor of the state.
It was Prichard’s wife, Joan Pritchard, who has taken credit for the “pickleball” name stating, “the combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew, where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”
Pitrone, the coach for North Smithfield’s new program, is a U.S. Professional Tennis Association-certified tennis professional, and has coached at Mount Saint Charles Academy and the University of Rhode Island. She has also worked as a physical education and health teacher.
“I’ve taught it in my classes the past couple of years,” Pitrone said of pickleball, noting the sport has grown in popularity recently in South County, Rhode Island. “Pickleball has really exploded – especially in Florida. My goal is to bring it to the northern half of the state.”
“The advantage of pickleball is it’s a lot smaller than a tennis court,” she said.
The sport is also predominantly played with doubles, and the net is lower than in tennis. For players, that means less room to cover, making pickleball less strenuous than a typical tennis game.
It’s also less expensive. Pitrone said it costs around $50 to purchase a good paddle. Nets are portable and lightweight for easy transport and storage.
That means in North Smithfield, when Pitrone isn’t teaching a pickleball session this summer, the courts at NSHS can easily convert back to tennis, with the new smaller nets stored in a nearby shed. New England Striping donated time and materials to add pickleball-sized courts to the surface, creating eight of the shorter spaces where four tennis courts also remain.
“The great thing about the North Smithfield program is those courts have lights, so we can play at night during the summer when it’s a lot cooler,” Pitrone said.
The coach was referred to the town by Natalie O’Brien, a NSHS teacher who’s coaching tennis this year as part of Parks & Recreation’s summer offerings. The tennis program, which is typically offered to North Smithfield residents every year, was cancelled in 2021 due to lack of instructors.
“Now, we have it back, and we have pickleball,” said Parks & Recreation Program Coordinator Kate Pasquariello. “I’ve been trying to get pickleball for a few years now.”
Tennis sessions are set to begin on Tuesday, July 5 with a program to be offered twice weekly to students in grades 1 to 9, through Thursday, August 11. Sessions will be held from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. for students in grades 1 through 4, and 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. for grades 5 through 9 every Tuesday and Thursday. The cost for the entire 12-lesson tennis session is $75, or players can attend a limited number of lessons for $10 each.
Pickleball players can also register via a barcode found on the North Smithfield Parks & Recreation Facebook page. Players for that sport must be 18 and over, and bring their own paddle.
If you’d like to try the sport, but aren’t quite ready to commit, you’ll likely get another whack at it, so to speak. A second pickleball session is expected to begin starting Monday, July 18.