BILOXI -- A game that started in a family's backyard about 50 years ago has become the latest fitness craze for seniors in South Mississippi. And while its name may be peculiar, pickleball is growing in popularity, especially in Harrison County.
"The sport is a cross between badminton, ping pong, tennis and racquetball," said Tom Linenberger, who, along with his wife, Deonne, helped establish pickleball along the Coast. "If you have skills in any of that, you just fall right into it."
The Linebergers started pickleball at the Donal Snyder Community Center in Biloxi about a year ago.
He said a group in Long Beach had been playing the sport for about four years.
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"We started with just a few players and now we have about 60," Tom Linenberger said. "This is not only people who live here fulltime, but also tourists and 'snowbirds.'"
The sport has grown so popular that the Donal Snyder Center has added three additional nets over the past year for a total of four indoor courts.
"We have also added Gulfport since we started and we have four courts there, as well," Deonne Linenberger said. "It grew so rapidly that we are now playing five days a week and three nights a week -- we're doing nights because some seniors are still working."
Pickleball was added to the Mississippi Senior Olympics four years ago. When the games start April 9 in Biloxi, more than 120 people "pickleballers" will be competing for a gold medal.
"Last year, we had zero people compete in the Senior Olympics from this group, but this year I think we will have at least 12," he said.
Interest in pickleball is not only increasing on the local level, but it is doing so nationally, as well.
According to the USA Pickleball Association (usapa.org), there are about 500 pickleball courts across the country.
"It's easy to see why pickleball is becoming so popular," Tom Linenberger said. "It's all about the 'three Fs:' fitness, fun and fellowship. I've lost weight since I started doing this, and I have met so many great people."