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Thursday, Mar 23, 2023

Paddle tennis and pickleball: Racket sports spread on Middlebury’s campus

Middlebury students take part in the intramural paddle tennis league.
Middlebury students take part in the intramural paddle tennis league.

Pickleball and paddle sports are rapidly growing in popularity throughout the U.S. In the past three years, the number of pickleball players alone in the U.S. grew by 159%, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Middlebury has not been an exception to this trend. Racket sports like pickleball and paddle tennis have exploded in popularity across Middlebury’s campus, and across the campus, students and the college have created opportunities for the Middlebury community to get their racket sports fix.

Pickleball is relatively easy for Middlebury students to play on campus — the college even offered a pickleball P.E. course over J-Term. This winter, the pickleball class, which Head Men’s Tennis Coach Andrew Thomson ’10 taught, met for an hour two times a week. The class met up at the two pickleball courts that college has created on the far side of Nelson Arena; one of them is on one of the tennis courts while the other is by the badminton courts.

For Middlebury students, the proliferation of pickleball around the U.S. and easy-to-learn nature of the game led to demand for the class.

“I've seen pickleball courts kind of around the area where I live, and when my family went on vacation, you just kind of see them sprouting up all over the place,” said Josh Harkins ’25, who took the pickleball class over J-Term. “I don't have a great background in racket sports, but I've played some racket sports before, and so it seemed like it was something where I might have a baseline of knowledge and skill.”

After taking the class, students were excited to share the sport with friends and continue to sharpen their pickleball skills beyond J-Term.

“All in all, pickleball is definitely something that I'm gonna continue to work on,” Harkins said. “I've been looking at tournaments to enter into, so it is definitely something that I hope to continue to do.”

For students who want to play a racket sport that is closer to the game of tennis, Middlebury has an intramural paddle tennis league that was started this year. Throughout the winter, the teams in the league have played every week on Middlebury’s paddle tennis courts right outside the fitness center. The courts have lights and heated floors, allowing students to play in almost all weather conditions.

Max Myers ’25.5, the commissioner of the paddle tennis league, has jumpstarted its organization. Myers, who played paddle tennis with his grandfather growing up, was looking for opportunities to continue playing on campus. When he realized there was already an intramural paddle tennis league, he jumped at the chance to work with the sport he loved.

“I was really stressed at first and had no idea what I was doing. It took a lot of kinks to get through and a lot of snow, but it was a great season, and people were happy with it,” Myers said.

Myers hopes that through the league, he can grow the sport and make paddle tennis more accessible to people across campus.

“Some people say Middlebury College is a country club, but it's an academic institution, and people have the right to play paddle tennis,” Myers said.