By: Stephanie Reynolds
Y’ALL! I just got back from the ribbon cutting for the pickleball courts at Big Spring Memorial Park!
Do you know what pickleball is? It’s a game kinda like tennis, kinda like badminton, kinda like ping pong. You use a giant paddle, a whiffle-looking ball, and a court with a lower net.
I talked to Teresa Gale from the Athens Alabama Pickleball Association after the ribbon cutting (I have a funny story about that, so keep reading). She was so incredibly nice and enthusiastic about pickleball and gave me some great info on how to get started…
We actually have three places to play here in Athens (look at us being all fancy!): Swan Creek, the Duck Pond, and the Rec Center. Even though they have grown from 30 people to 300 in two years, they are always looking for more (hint hint).
Now, I’m kind of a bro when it comes to exercise (just ate my two protein bars for lunch and feelin’ flexy), so I pride myself that I could swing it (get it? SWING it? Like swing a racquet?), but it was possible I was overestimating myself. However, Teresa said actually it’s good for all fitness levels. They have people from 16 to 80+. Teresa emphasized that it’s a wonderful sport physically, mentally, and socially. She claims, and I absolutely believe her, that it’s fun and easy cardio, and 2-3 hours can pass before you realize it. (Gotta love exercise where you don’t spend the whole time going “That HAS to have been 10 minutes…nope, 1 minute and 43 seconds…sigh”)
Also, they are trying to get a kids’ program developed (at the moment children under 16 aren’t allowed to play at the indoor Rec Center courts, but they can come to the other courts with a parent).
Now, down to brass tacks: How would you actually GO learn to play? Do you need to buy gear? No! In fact, at the Rec Center, they have equipment for you to borrow. And while they do have classes, if you go up to someone and say, “I want to learn,” they will probably eagerly set you up. Don’t you just love people who are so generous with their passion and time?
And let me tell you about their passion. I work right by the duck pond. Every morning there are folk playing on the courts when I get there. Every evening there are folk playing on the courts, even if I leave at 8 p.m.! I’m not the only one who noticed this; many of us who work here remark about the same thing. These folk hustle, y’all. I kid you not, one morning no one was on the court, and I actually wondered what might be going on. Did the end of the world happen, and I missed it because I hadn’t checked Facebook?
Long story short: Great sport. Great opportunity. Great people. Great sound (I love the thwack of the ball hitting the racquet).
Ok, back to The Best Ribbon Cutting Ever ™.
I know, I know. A ribbon cutting sounds sort of like a “shuffle from foot to foot and golf-clap politely on cue” situation, but it really wasn’t. Firstly, Pammie (the Emcee Extraordinaire) is fabulous and full of energy. Players were trying to get a few more hits in before clearing the courts for the event. Official folk and media were all getting prepared for the moment. There was just enough chaos to add excitement to the air.
We all assembled on the court, jockeying oh-so-politely for best viewing position whilst simultaneously trying to stay out of the direct line of various cameras. The pickleball players were all gathered to one side, and the rest of us were directed to the other side. Giant scissors were given to a beautiful player who has the most sweetly elegant air, even in gym gear. (Apparently those giant scissors are real and really heavy. I always thought the giant scissors you see in ribbon cuttings were fake cardboard or something). She gave a small speech and Pammie gave a longer one and then got everyone ready for the big moment…
Wait, wait, wait! It’s supposed to be the count of three!
Ok, let’s try again. Just hold the cut parts together and pretend. We’re going to START with three and count down, y’all ready?
Pammie throws her hands up in adorable mock frustration. The wielder of the scissors insists that the scissors are REALLY HEAVY and promises that it was an accident, and folk are literally doubled over in laughter.
The wielder’s scissor privileges have been thoroughly and utterly revoked. A brigade of “hold multiple pieces of cut ribbon together” is enlisted. The picture is staged one more time…
<timely snip ensues>
WOOHOOO! Everyone claps with extra enthusiasm. The smiles are wide, the cheers are loud and everyone gathers around the untimely wielder to encourage her. Best ribbon cutting ever.
I love this town.
And I think pickleball people have become my new favorites.
By: Stephanie Reynolds
Athens-Limestone Tourism Association