Every Sunday morning and Monday evening at Hallowing Point Park in Prince Frederick, the tennis courts serve as hosts to an adult pickleball league that reflects the growing interest in the sport.
Although it was first invented in 1965 by former Washington state congressman, Joel Pritchard, in the backyard of his home on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, pickleball has enjoyed a rapid expansion in popularity over the last decade. Perhaps few places have experienced that growth more readily than in Southern Maryland where pickleball players flock to courts in all three counties.
“Everywhere you look, there are more people playing pickleball than tennis,” said Huntingtown native Robin Martin, who plays in the league at Hallowing Point Park as a member of the Calvert Legends. “Right now the sport is the fastest growing sport in the United States. It’s huge. There are tournaments somewhere in the country almost every weekend now.”
Among the designations craftily placed in the Calvert Legends logo are the initials “EW” which Martin intentionally engraved there in honor of his longtime friend and fellow Huntingtown resident, Eric White. Although he downplays the legendary disclaimer, White has continued to carve out a superb playing career on the pickleball courts while competing at the 5.0 level, the sport’s highest.
“Believe me, that wasn’t my idea,” said White, a Maryland State Trooper whose son, Brody White, is a Huntingtown High senior who plays tennis and hockey. “Rob put that on there on his own. But I love playing pickleball. I used to play tennis all the time, but now I just play pickleball and coach tennis with my kids. It has really taken off in Calvert and St. Mary’s counties and you’re starting to see more of it in Charles County.”
White has played at the sport’s highest levels in doubles, where he and former playing partner, Paul Olin, once finished third in the 19-49 national doubles tournament. Olin, however, has since aged out of that bracket and is now considered the top 50-over singles player in the country.
Martin will be among the locals looking to defend their home court this Sunday in the inaugural Pickleball Team Challenge as the Calvert Legends host the Annapolis Pickleball Club, a group that includes three times as many members as those in Southern Maryland. Matches are scheduled to last from 8 a.m. until noon.
Martin is also among the locals one can expect to see on Monday nights along with prominent players Bruce Dinopolous, Bill Gray, Mike Hancock, Calverton School tennis coach Phil Weiner and Calvert County Sheriff Mike Evans (R). But their success has not been limited to the courts throughout Southern Maryland as validated by a recent venture down south.
Last month in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the Calvert Legends recorded a bevy of first-place titles in singles and doubles events. Evans and Phil Heuman took gold in the 3.0 men’s doubles, Sue Scaduto captured gold in the 3.0 singles, Phil and Melissa Weiner won gold in the 3.5 mixed doubles, Evans and Scaduto captured gold in the 3.0 mixed doubles, Bill and Karen Gray took gold in the 3.0 mixed doubles and Heuman captured gold in 3.0 singles. Martin and Paul Colbert also took silver in 4.0 doubles.
“I’ve always coached tennis, but I love playing pickleball,” Weiner said. “It’s something anyone can play. Besides, you can play competitively or just for fun. Everywhere you look now in Calvert County, there are more people playing pickleball than tennis on the courts. It’s just taking off everywhere.”