In Charlotte, pickleball is becoming increasingly popular, and one local group aims to include more Black people in the growing sport.
Black Pickleball Collective launched last month after founder Kayla Brooks visited Rally, a new local pickleball-centered recreation center in South End, with a group of friends.
Brooks said she noticed few Black people at the center and decided to create a space to encourage more people of color to play the game.
“We wanna make sure Black people have representation in that sports as it grows,” Brooks told QCity Metro.
More than one million Americans have picked up a paddle in the last two years, according to CNN. Pickleball is also a largely white sport.
Nearly 70 percent of casual players and over 80 percent of core players are white, according to the Sports Fitness Industry Association report. Among all pickleballers, 7.3 percent are African American/Black.
What is pickleball?
Pickleball was birthed in 1965 when future U.S. Congressman Joel Pritchard and his friend Bill Bell attempted to entertain their bored children on holiday.
The goal of pickleball, like other racket sports, is to hit a ball over a net and prevent an opponent from hitting it back, Brooks said. The game lasts until one side reaches 11 points, with a two-point lead.
Like tennis, pickleball can be played in a singles or doubles configuration on a court approximately half the size of a tennis court. Players use a solid paddle to hit the ball, a larger than normal ping pong.
Trying a new game
Brooks, who had never played the sport, was initially hesitant to play.
“Black people don’t play pickleball,” Brooks recalled telling her friend.
“We played and had a great time. So much so that we came back the next week to play again.”
After a few visits, Brooks and her friends noticed they were the only Black people at the recreation center and decided to start a group to encourage others to join.
The friends created an Instagram account under the name “Black Pickleball Collective,” where they shared clips of their visits to Rally.
Helen McKeon, senior manager of community & culture at Rally, took notice of the social media post and reached out to the group to learn more.
“[Kayla] shared her passion for showing that pickleball is for the Black community,” McKeon said. “We are all about democratizing the sport and country club experience.”
Rally has allotted two courts for Black Pickleball Collective to host pickup games every Monday at no cost to participants.
The group hosted its first event on July 24, with more than 30 participants.
Brooks said it’s important for Black people to learn the game for health and professional reasons.
As a business major at Hampton University, she learned that tennis and golf were games often played during deal negotiations.
Pickleball will likely soon join those ranks, she said.
Besting the competition
During the first Black Pickle Ball Collective event, Jonah Wylie and Daniel Israel ran through the competition and won five games straight.
The duo had been playing in parks across the city for more than a year. After hearing about Black Pickleball Collective, they decided to test their skills against new competition.
Israel said their success came from a long learning process.
“You play a couple of 40-year-old guys that have been playing for a few years. They’ll teach you how to play for real,” he said. “It’s humbling too.”
Wylie said the collective is a good way to meet new people and get active.
“It’s kind of like a casual workout, but the game can be competitive if you want it to be,” he said.
Brooks said she knows there are a lot of people who may be on the fence about playing the sport, but encourages them to connect with Black Pickleball Collective.
“Pull up on Mondays, and we’ll change your mind,” she said.
They hope to launch classes for people to learn how to play, release new merchandise and, overall, get more people involved.