Two and a half days after registration opened last month, Stonewall Sports Charlotte filled all of the slots for its inaugural pickleball league. Registration was supposed to end on Feb. 19 for the league that starts in March.
“We were expecting that people would be excited about it, but we were floored that it went so fast,” said Amanda Miklos, 39, who co-leads the league with her wife Monica, 40.
Pickleball is a fun sport with a silly name that has captured the global stage. It’s a combination of table tennis (but bigger paddles) and tennis (smaller court, lower net and a wiffle-type ball). It appeals to people of all age regardless of athleticism. Prior to the pandemic, pickleball appealed to mostly older people. In fact, many of the area’s open play sessions are held at county recreation centers during working hours which is like the hours for badminton.
During the pandemic, pickleball exploded among younger players and its popularity continues to grow. CNBC reported that more than 36.5 million people played pickleball from August 2021 to August 2022, according to a new report by the Association of Pickleball Professionals.
The sport now boasts the firepower of LeBron James, Tom Brady, Kevin Durant and Patrick Mahomes who’ve invested in professional pickleball teams, according to news reports. There’s a YouTube video of the retired quarterback Eli Manning brothers playing retired tight end Rob Gronkowski. It’s more trash talking than playing.
The Stonewall League joins numerous other Charlotte Pickleball Leagues, including a few sponsored by Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation, as well as others hosted by private organizations such as Pickleball Charlotte.
It’s come a long way in Charlotte from when the Mikloses learned to play while visiting friends in Tampa a couple of years ago.
“You get so obsessed and addicted to this game,” Amanda Miklos said. “It’s just so fun.”
Stonewall decided to add pickleball conducting a survey to determine which new sports to add. They discovered a lot of desire for a pickleball league. Many people heard of pickleball but didn’t know how to play, they said.
The Miklos want to make the new Stonewall League fun and less intimidating to beginners. Instead of typical league play in which registrants join as a two-person team, they’re doing a ladder system. Players register as individuals and play with different partners throughout the seven-week league (excluding rain outs).
Out of 60 players, about a third marked that they never played before or were beginner, Monica Miklos said. As with other leagues, they will hold a 101 clinic and practice night before the season starts. These are opportunities to teach beginners the rules and give them some exposure to the venue where they will be playing – Matthews Swim and Tennis Center.
“Everybody’s got to start somewhere,” Monica Miklos said.
“Our goal was to start the league, do something that was accessible and allow people to learn a news sport,” added Amanda Miklos.
In Charlotte, the sport has become extremely popular earning stories in local media and the conversion of tennis courts into pickleball courts. Rally, billed as an urban pickleball entertainment experience, is slated to open in near Old Pineville Road and Southside Drive.
It’s becoming more and more difficult to play for free here unlike other sports. It’s difficult to simply show up at a court with friends on a nice day during prime hours to play. Parks and Rec now has an online court registration portal to help manage the chaos at its popular courts. Pickleball Charlotte hosts open plays ranging from mornings to evenings at Sports Connections facilities in Ballantyne, Northlake and southwest Charlotte. The cost varies. Charlotte Indoor Tennis in south Charlotte also hosts open plays throughout the week for varying skill levels and a fee.
Pickleball is a perfect fit for Stonewall. The league that started in 2014 with kickball now includes bowling, volleyball, cornhole and dodgeball and most importantly long-lasting friendships.
“Stonewall has been amazing. We have a whole group of friends that were on our kickball team that we’re still friends with. It’s been such a cool thing for community,” Amanda Miklos said.
They’ve made lasting connections, gotten to know people, and had fun at the same time.