Have you ever played the game pickleball? It’s almost like tennis but “miniature,” with a shorter net. And instead of a tennis ball and tennis rackets, pickleball is played with a wiffle ball and paddles. It’s the perfect sport for having fun and being social — and now, it’s putting Birmingham on the national pickleball map.
The USA Pickleball Association will hold the National Indoor Championships right here in the Magic City from June 8 to June 13. Pickleball enthusiasts from all over and of all ages will play their beloved sport at the Hoover Met Complex — a state-of-the-art, 155,000-square-foot facility — and the staff is very much looking forward to the event.
“It seems that, coming out of Covid when everyone was at home and didn’t have stuff to do, this is a sport that people can play where they aren’t close to one another,” noted E. J. Brophy, general manager of the Hoover Met Complex. “You’re well over six feet away, whether playing singles or doubles. It seems to be catching on among empty nesters, retirees and people who want to keep fit and socialize.”
So why Birmingham? We caught up with George Bauernfeind of the USA Pickleball Association and he listed the reasons any of us would suspect: it’s a great city; the sport is popular here; and the Hoover Met Complex is the ideal facility.
“Pickleball grew 21% in 2020, and Finley Center provides ample space to host a tournament of this size,” he explained. “Birmingham is a great city with rich history and great restaurants. Many participants will be in town for a good portion of the tournament week, and having activities and good food is always important.”
Harry Leckemby, event manager at the Hoover Met Complex, pointed out that a tournament of this size is good news for the city, particularly in the wake of the pandemic.
“The weeklong tournament’s projected economic impact for the area is over $1 million, which is a huge influx into the local economy after COVID-19,” he said. “Pickleball continues to be one of America’s fastest-growing sports and hosting this tournament will expose new people to it, driving further growth in the Birmingham area and beyond.”
For folks who are reading this and feeling curious about pickleball, there are plenty of chances to find out more. You can come out and learn about the sport on June 7, while the players are warming up. Bauernfeind also promises a community party, as well as no fee to watch the games. And the pickleball clinic the week before the event is a fine opportunity to learn how to play.
“For anyone interested in learning more about the sport or developing their skills, we’ll be hosting the Tyson McGuffin Signature Pickleball Clinic on June 1 and 2 in the Finley Center, as a leadup to the Championships,” Leckemby noted.
“The goal is 700 or more players, making it one of the largest inaugural events on the pickleball scene,” Bauernfeind concluded.