A leisure activity is on the rise in Elkhart County, a new sport rather. It requires a wooden racket, sending and returning a ball over a net, some lateral quickness and, most importantly, an open mind. 

And although this may sound like tennis, it’s not. It’s pickleball.  

Pickleball’s popularity is growing exponentially throughout the United States with an estimated 223.5% growth since 2020, making it the fastest-growing sport in America, according to USA Pickleball.

This growing popularity has made its way from the West Coast in Washington, where it originated, to Goshen, with the creation of various pickleball courts and clubs. The most notable and official club in the area is the Goshen Pickleballers, established by community members along with help from Goshen Parks and Recreation Department. 

The club, boasting an email list of around 100 locals, meets at Model Elementary School weekly, with different skill levels playing on specific days. 

Andrew Hartzler, a Goshen College professor of accounting, who leads a beginners group under the Goshen Pickleballers, says it’s “the most accessible sport I’ve ever seen.” 

“I think I’ve only met, like, one person out of 100 that just could not do it,” he said. “The range of people who are able to do it is why it’s growing so fast … and it’s fun. It’s just a lot of fun.”

Along with the beginner-friendly nature and fun, the increase in growth can also be attributed to health benefits. According to a study by the University of Manitoba, pickleball players averaged 3,322 steps per hour in singles play, with doubles pickleball accruing 2,790 steps.

A skill rating system is set for the players to dictate their skill level based on previous performances. The Goshen Pickleballers set specific practice days that cater to each level of performance group. The scale ranges from 1.0 to 5.5+. For example, a player with a rating of 3.5 has designated practices on Mondays, while players with a rating of beginner to 1.0 practice on Wednesdays.

As pickleball grows in Goshen, so does the skill level. The local scene has become “very competitive” in the last two years since Hartzler joined and has places where it can be “not as welcoming” he says.

Sherri Kramp, a Goshen resident and pickleball group leader, was introduced to the sport in 2022 when she was invited to Jill Perry’s free lessons.

“I had classes with Jill and then I did play for a couple months after that,” Kramp said. “[It was] very, very helpful for the community to provide that.”

Since joining over two years ago, there’s been a shift in demographics and inclusion.

“The biggest change is the younger people coming in now,” she said. “It’s almost shifted … younger.”

Mark Hartman, an avid pickleballer from the area, says he started playing “to lose weight.” When asked what keeps him around, he said, “I was losing weight. It was working.”

Hartman has played four to five times a week since he started last June, driving to different courts and facilities to get in playing time.

“I haven’t been around that long but I … play with four or five different groups, so depending on the size of the groups … you can play with 150 people,” Hartman said. 

Hartzler, Kramp and Hartman all agreed that Model Elementary was the standout spot in local pickleball, with their court setup and maintenance from Goshen Parks and Recreation.

“They do a good job,” Hartman said. “they take care of this … [when] nobody else has to.”