'It's just going to continue to grow': Washington County man introduces area youth to pickleball craze

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MEQUON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- For the last eight years, life has been all about pickleball for Mike McGuire.

"I'll go wherever to play," said McGuire, a certified pickleball instructor from Kewaskum. "We play in driveways, sometimes. It's so easy. We can set up this net in a driveway in five minutes and be playing Pickleball."

The accessibility of the game and the joy it brings has taken notice over the last few years. In 2021, pickleball grew to 4.8-million players in the United States, according to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association Single Sport Report. That was a nearly 15-percent growth from 2020 to 2021, contributing to an 11.5-percent annual growth rate over the last five years.

"It's just going to continue to grow," McGuire said. "It's going to maybe grow faster now as it gets more popular. More people are hearing about it; they want to do it."

Chris Korjenek has been playing pickleball for three years and is currently a USA Pickleball Ambassador representing Ozaukee County. She says there's a lot of excitement surrounding the game right now.

"So much camaraderie and friendships and it's just a really special game," Korjenek explained. "I think it's definitely going to expand."

Founded in Washington state in 1965, pickleball is celebrating its 57th anniversary in 2022. A sport that has typically been thought of as a gym class activity, or one for senior citizens, the last five years have seen it take off with the founding of several professional leagues and organizations.

"Unfortunately, pickleball sort of has the reputation of being for older people, but it's definitely not," Korjenek said. "The number one player in the world, female player, is 15-years-old. If you can embrace them when they're younger, they just pick it up so much more easily."

Out of the 4.8-million players throughout the United States, just over 21-percent are between the ages of six and 17, with 50-percent of players under the age of 35. Noticing the importance of introducing kids to the sport at a young age, Korjenek contacted McGuire and set up a youth pickleball clinic in Mequon, allowing kids the chance to learn a new sport while having fun with their friends.

"Get them involved when they're younger," said Korjenek. "It absolutely helps to bring younger kids into it."

Over the course of the five clinics, the kids, ranging in ages from 10 to 13, learned everything from serving, forehands and backhands to strategic offensive and defensive play. Anna Faucett says it was a fun way to learn the game with her friends.

It's been really fun! I like it because I can see my friends but also stay active, too," Faucett said. "I used to play tennis and I think it's just a more fun version of tennis."

Nolan Bremenkamp learned the game from his grandpa two years ago. Now, he's happy to enjoy it with his classmates.

"Coach Mike's been teaching me how to angle my shots more and try to hit them," Bremenkamp said. "Hitting some nice shots on them (classmates) and like, them returning it is pretty cool to see how they kind of grow with the sport.

McGuire says it's their ability to pick up the game so quickly and be competitive with it that makes teaching such a joy for him.

"Seeing them playing long points and getting excited," McGuire said. "Keeping the ball in play and making the right call and right decisions and just having fun and getting into it. Some of these kids, I'm sure, got dragged here and they left all wanting to play more."

Anyone interested in setting up a session with McGuire for their family or neighborhood is encouraged to click here for more information.

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