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The Student News Site of Henry M. Gunn High School

The Oracle

The Student News Site of Henry M. Gunn High School

The Oracle

Pickleball Passion: Students connect with older generation

Pickleball+Passion%3A+Students+connect+with+older+generation
Vivian Studdert

According to NPR, pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S., a title it has held for the last five years. Palo Alto’s pickleball community is growing alongside others worldwide, with round-robin tournaments and hit-arounds at local parks and country clubs.

Senior Reed Flinchbaugh, an avid “pickler,” plays pickleball up to five times a week.

“My parents played (pickleball) a lot, and at the beginning of junior year I just went out with (my friend) and hit the ball around,” he said. “After that, we decided to go every weekend.”

Flinchbaugh’s love for and commitment to the sport quickly grew, and he began to play at the Mitchell Park courts in his spare time.

“They’re the best courts in Palo Alto, and people come from all over (the Bay) to play there,” he said.

Junior Sam Little also plays at the Mitchell Park courts, as well as at the Foothills Tennis and Swimming Club. He starting playing in 2021 while in Lake Tahoe.

“On the weekends, it’s always packed,” Little said, regarding the Mitchell Park courts. “You have to figure out how to share the courts and play with other people.”

Little acknowledges that, though he enjoys playing with friends, playing against someone new is also a rewarding experience.

“There have been times where I’ve gone (to play) alone, and some random stranger will come and play with me,” he said.

Freshman Jeronimo Garcia Gutierrez only started playing earlier this year, but has also felt the positive presence of pickleball strangers.

“They’re not strangers for long,” he said. “It’s usually just older people and me and my friends, and they’re always offering help and encouragement.”

Pickleball is often dubbed a “senior sport” since a large proportion of players are over 60 years old, but as a young pickler, Little views this dynamic positively.

With all the different people I meet at the courts, I see them around town sometimes and can say like, ‘Oh hey, what’s up?’ and suddenly I have a friend who’s 80 years old.

— Senior Reed Flinchbaugh

“I think it’s really great for the community that older people are able to come out to the courts — not just to stay active but to do something they enjoy, like a hobby,” Little said.

Flinchbaugh expressed similar thoughts about pickleball’s unique demographic, noting that he enjoys his time with the age-diverse group of people.

“I don’t really have any connection to people above the age of 30 aside from my parents,” he said. “But with all the different people I meet at the courts, I see them around town sometimes and can say like, ‘Oh hey, what’s up?’ and suddenly I have a friend who’s 80 years old.”

At Gunn, the Pickleball Club meets every Friday at lunch at the outdoor basketball courts. Little said he attended once, but hasn’t been back due to the time it takes to set up the nets. “I was really only able to get into one, or maybe half (of) a game,” he said. “I didn’t think it was worth my lunch to play that short of an amount.”

Though pickleball has taken Palo Alto by storm, Little wishes the pickle scene were more developed elsewhere.

“There have been times when I was traveling where I’ve really wanted to play, but there have been no courts near me,” he said. “I wish more cities and towns would invest in the sport because I think it will bring a lot of people out and they’ll really get into it.”

Little and Flinchbaugh both praised the inclusivity and welcoming spirit of the pickleball community, encouraging others to join.

“If you can, hop on the wave early,” Flinchbaugh said. “It’s fast-growing, but you can have a head start on everyone else, and (even) better, join our community.”

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About the Contributor
Vivian Studdert, Sports Editor
Vivian Studdert is a senior and a sports editor for The Oracle. Outside of school, Vivian enjoys reading, swimming and traversing the supermarket.
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