Pickleball saved Davy Meister’s life.

The Culpeper resident admits, with a little bit of a laugh, that he’s being melodramatic but the sport of pickleball has enhanced his quality of life after he took it up a few months ago through the program offered by Culpeper County Parks and Recreation.

He has doctors’ orders to “get moving” and knowing he had hip, knee and back issues he had to find a sport that was low-impact, but high cardio. 

Pickleball fit the bill. Now, almost through his first session with Ann Frias and her pickleball crew every Saturday at Emerald Hill Elementary School, Meister is seeing results. 

“I came here on a Saturday, these people were amazing, they were guiding me, teaching me, instructing me,” Meister said. “They made me feel welcome and the game is incredible. I call it my pickleball family. Ann is doing an incredible job, encouraging, motivating - she wants this to spread. I think that it will.”

Pickleball - the “fastest growing sport in America” - Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle, Washington. Three dads – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum — whose kids were bored with their usual summertime activities — are credited for creating game, according to the official pickleball website. Pickleball has evolved from original handmade equipment and simple rules into a popular sport throughout the US and Canada. The game is growing internationally as well, with many European and Asian countries adding courts.

But why is it called pickleball? There are several theories but the most prevalent is that according to McCallum, the game was officially named after the Pritchards’ dog Pickles, who would chase the ball and run off with it. 

It’s that style of charm that has led the sport to be embraced in Culpeper - especially by seniors.

Frias is hoping to continue to attract seniors, but she wants families to see what the benefits are too.

“When I initially started, it was exclusive to seniors and I realized it should all inclusive,” Frias said. “After running the basketball clinic for kids, ages 6-15, I realized hand/eye coordination goes hand-in-hand in any sport.”

Adam Jones, 13, and his mother saw an ad in the Fauquier Discover magazine and decided to give the sport a try. 

“We tried it and just really liked it,” Jones said. “I just knew it was a mix of tennis and ping pong. I enjoy the people, the sport in general.”

Frias takes the court along with the other players every Saturday, she’s fallen in love with it as well.

“I’m noticing a difference with my rapid eye movement, the way I’m thinking and my overall wellness has improved,” Frias said. 

A cross between tennis and ping pong, pickleball is played on a 20-foot long by 44-foot wide court. It has quickly become popular in Culpeper, being played at the Culpeper Baptist Church on Tuesday and Thursdays and new courts are being put in at Sycamore Park Elementary School. Doug Robson, Director of Facilities Services for CCPS, said the courts were ready on Friday and the schools covered the cost of the courts in support of community partnership.

“The Baptist Church, Pastor Dan was kind enough to entertain the idea of a court inside and then they have three courts outside,” Frias said. “A lot of my players are coming from the Culpeper Baptist Church, especially the ones that want less impact on their knees.”

Frias said she’s appreciative of the MOU the parks and rec department and Culpeper County Public Schools are working on - to allow pickleball to be played at EHE. 

“We’ve gone and set a whole schedule for the school year, our hope is that this is going to be pickleball home,” Frias said. “My intention is to spread more awareness, to create a family-fun atmosphere while continuing to cater to seniors or anyone who is curious.”

The session costs $40, though Frias said she is working on adjusting that cost for future programs. The seven session course ends at the end of October, but she plans to start up again in the winter. The next session will incorporate a drop-in rate as well. 

To sign up for the league, visit www.culpeperrecreation.com.

Meister said he hopes more people in the community come out to join the pickleball craze. 

“It’s a perfect sport for anyone who wants to get good exercise without having to cause a lot of harm to their body,” Meister said. “It’s fun, it’s a great way to meet new people and make new friends.”

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