IN THE KITCHEN Juniors Neil Yepuri and Arjun Poi rally with one another at Netherlands Park, which is only a five-minute drive from the school.
IN THE KITCHEN Juniors Neil Yepuri and Arjun Poi rally with one another at Netherlands Park, which is only a five-minute drive from the school.

The growth of unique sports: pickleball

One-hundred-sixteen years of age, together on the court.
60- year old Amy teamed up with 32- year old Josh.
40 feet across from them are 17 year old juniors Teddy Fleiss and Zachary Yang.
It’s game point. Fleiss fires up a serve, but Amy returns it with a unique smoothness. Yang sprints and fires the ball back. The ball lands right on the corner as Josh attempts to hit it but misses.
The four come together, shake hands and say their goodbyes. This wasn’t their first time playing together and definitely won’t be their last.
Amy went home to talk to her son who was now a sophomore in college.
Josh went home to spend time with his wife and kids.
Fleiss and Yang went home to start their homework and get ready for the school week ahead.
Three different generations. Three different lifestyles. Three different backgrounds.
One bond over the simple game of pickleball.
For Junior Teddy Fleiss, that is what is special about the game. It brings people together.
“Pickleball is an easy sport,” said Fleiss. “It is not a very strenuous activity. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, you can still play the game and have fun doing it.”
From his time on the tennis courts, Fleiss was able to pick the game up easily. Wanting to share his love for the game, he reached out to those around him, unaware they had also been drawn in by this unique sport.
“I was at the court with some friends I had invited and as we were leaving we saw one of our friends come with his family,” Fleiss said. “ Once we saw him, we begin to realize how many other kids at St. Mark’s enjoyed pickleball.”
In order to connect with those who shared his passion for the game, Fleiss decided to make a group chat.
“Now we could communicate with each other and play whenever anyone was free,” Fleiss said. “It was a good idea because playing with just three friends every time, if one friend can’t make it then you can’t play. In a big group chat it’s easy to get a group of four together at any time.”
One of the kids in the group chat was junior Zachary Yang. His pickleball journey began when the rest of his life was put on hold.
“I started playing over COVID,” Yang said. “There wasn’t a lot to do at the time. My mom liked to play tennis, so we just started playing as a family.”
The game of pickleball is growing at an exponential rate. It was named the fastest growing sport in America with a 223 percent increase of involvement since 2020. Yang is seeing the growth first hand through his neighborhood parks.
“It is basically impossible to make a reservation date the day of, especially on the weekends,” Yang said. “You really have to plan it in advance.”
However, sometimes they forget, but it always works out. At times, simply showing up opens the door for new friendships that would not have occurred otherwise.
“That’s how we met Amy,” Fleiss said. “Her friends hadn’t shown up and she asked us to play. We had a lot of fun and now whenever we see her we try to play a couple games together.”
Often at the park, Fleiss and his friends will run into other schools. While in the past Fleiss would have turned the other way, now he sees it as an opportunity.
“It’s a great way to make friends,” Fleiss said. “Sometimes we see Hockaday or Highland Park and have some school against school matches. It can get competitive but it’s always a lot of fun.”
While the game has its competitive moments, it’s the relaxed atmosphere that tends to attract players. For junior Mateu Parker, an All-American decathlete, this game offers the perfect escape from the stress of his work on the track.
“Every time I play pickleball, I don’t have to think about what I have going on with school and sports,” Parker said. “I can really just enjoy and spend time with my friends. It distracts me from what’s going on.”
Interest in pickleball is continuing to grow, and the development of the game is rapidly advancing. Fleiss is optimistic about pickleball’s future and the trajectory it is headed on.
“All the courts around University Park are being switched from tennis courts to pickleball courts,” Fleiss said. “The game caters to a much larger audience and I see it expanding even further.”

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