Pickleball is ranked as the third most popular form of exercise behind cycling and running.
Category: Cover Story

Hot Springs’ Vulcan a big ‘dill’ in the pickleball universe

One of the largest pickleball equipment manufacturers in the United States calls Arkansas home. Founded in 2015, Vulcan Sporting Goods Co. in Hot Springs is a subsidiary of Tanners Team Sports, which is owned by Smith’s Sporting Group.

The same dedication to design and innovation that Tanners — a leading sports equipment authority for more than 30 years — devotes to developing baseball, softball and tennis products, is present at Vulcan. Their paddles are renowned by players of all skill levels for providing a next-level edge as well as a vibrant style.

“We are not just a pickleball paddle manufacturer,” states Lucia DiGiacomo, Vulcan general manager. “We produce a full range of pickleball products.”

The Vulcan VPRO Flight was named the Official Ball of the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) Tour. Vulcan also makes nets, bags, apparel and a wide range of accessories.

Vulcan is committed to supporting and growing the sport by sponsoring an increasing stable of elite professional players and an ambassador team of influencers for the sport at tournaments, on-court and on social media.

The four lighted courts at the Vulcan headquarters are free and open to the public. Visitors are welcome to come by and try Vulcan products and attend training clinics.

For information on Vulcan pickleball clinics, lessons and events, visit vulcansportinggoods.com.

Fastest-growing sport serves up fitness, fun

A versatile sport, pickleball is intended to be a social activity for participants of all ages and athletic abilities. Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

“People can be divided into two categories when it comes to pickleball,” explains Gary Hamm, co-founder of Western Arkansas Pickleball Advocates (WAPA). “Those who are currently playing pickleball and those who will be playing pickleball.”

Hamm is making a joke. However, there is a lot of truth in what he is saying. Pickleball has been the fastest-growing sport in America for three years running. It is ranked third behind cycling and running as the country’s most popular form of exercise.

There are numerous reasons for the sport’s growing popularity.

One is the cost. Margena Lumpkin of Fort Smith says she bought a starter set of paddles, balls, and net for a little over $100. She set up the net in her driveway, pulled out the grill, invited friends over, and it was “game on.”

Also, pickleball is easy to learn. Novices can call up a few YouTube videos and easily learn the basics of the game. After watching tutorials, find a friend, find a spot, and begin batting the ball around.

Take your best shot

Once you are comfortable with moving about the court and returning the ball, visit USA Pickleball Places2Play or download the USA Pickleball Places2Play app to locate a pickleball court. (The website also has instructional videos, a rule book and other information.) Learn the finer details of the sport by “on-the-job training” with others, or jump-start mastery of the game by contacting a personal trainer, such as Todd Herman of Greenwood.

Youth players try their hand at pickleball for the first time. Bob Robinson

Herman is a Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) coach trained to help players of all skill levels improve their game and avoid common faux pas associated with the interpretation of the rules. Coaches can also advise players on effective stretching exercises to avoid common stress-related injuries.

“My philosophy of teaching is to start at the beginning and teach the very basics first,” Herman explains. ”The progression of adding skills in the order they are needed in a game situation will best prepare someone to learn how to play the game.”

Visit pprpickleball.org/find-a-pro/ to locate a coach in your area.

Vulcan Sporting Goods Co. in Hot Springs manufactures pickleball equipment and accessories and has four lighted courts free and open to the public.

Another reason for the sport’s growing popularity is its accessibility; pickleball was intended to be a social activity for participants of all ages and athletic abilities.

It all started in 1965 when Washington State Congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell returned to Pritchard’s home to find their families bored with nothing to do. Pritchard suggested everyone play a game together on an old badminton court at his house. When the only equipment they could scrounge up were ping-pong paddles and perforated plastic balls, the group decided to create a new game. To make the game more fun for everyone, they tailored the rules to eliminate advantages associated with height and strength.

Voilà, pickleball was born. As for how it got its name, one account attributes its moniker to “pickle boats,” and another attributes it to a dog named Pickles.

The ball is in your court

Now is a great time to be a pickleball player in The Natural State. Thanks to the dedicated work of the sport’s early supporters, there are many courts available.

Mike Bernardo, ambassador at Kanis Park in Little Rock, says, “Pickleball is exploding in the Central Arkansas area, as it is across the country. Communities both public and private are trying to keep up with the sport’s growing demand.”

With six recently built courts at Kanis Park, a new 12-court facility that opened at North Little Rock’s Burns Park, construction of new courts in progress at Maumelle, and the March grand opening of new courts at the Little Rock Athletic Club, Central Arkansas has become a hotspot for pickleball action.

Dee Vincent of Hot Springs Village was one of the early Arkansans to pick up the sport, learning pickleball while visiting Arizona. She introduced it to her community in the 1990s. Vincent convinced the Property Owners Association (POA) to convert several rundown tennis courts into pickleball courts. As she began teaching other residents to play, interest in the sport grew. The club’s 375 members now have 14 dedicated pickleball courts.

Many churches and other community facilities across the state have modified their gymnasiums for pickleball. With a little tape and portable nets, a basketball court can accommodate two regulation pickleball courts.

Leveling up

Although pickleball is tailored more to accommodate recreational play, there are avenues in the sport for players aspiring to become more competitive. Tournament play is growing across the country.

The Hot Springs Spa Pickleball Tournament is one of many tournaments now held in Arkansas. Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

“I enjoy the social aspect of pickleball,” explains Carl Norris of Fort Smith. “But I played competitive sports all my life. Now that I play pickleball, I am always working to improve my game. With tournaments, I get to play against very good players. It also motivates me to play more between tournaments.”

Visit pickleballtournaments.com for a list of competitions by state.

Also, Pickleheads are actively campaigning worldwide to have the game included in the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Yes, the future looks bright for pickleball. So, play ball — pickleball, that is.