Port Royal pickleball players looking for new home for sport they say is growing

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By MINDY LUCAS

Sixty-nine-year-old Emily Upperman started playing pickleball four years ago after she and her husband retired and moved to Port Royal.

Some neighbors had told them about a group that played at The Shed – the town-owned building on Paris Avenue – so one morning Upperman decided to give it a shot. She was hooked from the start.

“It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had,” she said. “It’s exercise without feeling overwhelmed.”

The sport is growing as can be seen over on Hilton Head and in Bluffton where there are hundreds of players and a number of courts, both public and private. And now the craze seems to have caught on North of the Broad, particularly in Port Royal.

The group of men and women, retirees and working professionals, started with about 16 members but has since grown to more than a hundred, Upperman said. Each player has been paying the Town of Port Royal $50 per person, or $75 for non-residents, for six months of unlimited play.

But now the group will have to find another place to play.

The Town of Port Royal has approved the sale of the 6,000-square-foot space to high-end Charleston furniture and cabinetry makers, Perrin Woodworking, and expects to close on the sale next month, confirmed Mayor Joe DeVito. The town will keep a separate building behind The Shed which currently houses a dance studio and marketing firm.

In the meantime, DeVito says the town is “actively pursuing options” to help locate a new home for the Pickleball community and “would love to see them continue to play in Port Royal.”

A cycling enthusiast himself, DeVito said he and other council members have been receptive to the idea of Pickleball in Port Royal and feel it fits with the Port Royal brand of “Cool, coastal and far from ordinary.”

“There’s no question it does,” he said. “Pickleball is growing. It’s a great sport for people to stay active. It’s fairly low impact and easy to do, and it’s exciting and that’s what Port Royal is all about.”

One idea as a possible home for the soon-to-be displaced players is to use some abandoned tennis courts behind Port Royal Elementary, said both DeVito and members of the pickleball community. However, the courts would need to be refurbished before playing on them, and the town would need to work out details for their use with the school district.

In the meantime, pickleball fans say it’s not just a fun sport with great camaraderie, it’s also good for your health.

But what exactly is pickleball?

According to the USA Pickleball Association, pickleball is a paddle sport that combines many elements of tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong. It can be played indoors or outdoors as doubles or singles, and is usually played on a badminton-sized court with a slightly modified tennis net.

Also, since the court is a fourth of the size of a tennis court, there’s less ground to cover making it ideal for players of all ages.

“Pickleball could be a sport enjoyed by all ages that the younger could learn from the older how to play, and I think that would be a great bond for the two generations,” Upperman said.

What’s more, since it’s low impact, many people who are no longer able to play tennis have turned to pickleball a source for continued fitness, she said.

Upperman’s group, made up of retirees, plays as many as five mornings a week. Another group made up of people who work during the day, plays two evenings a week at The Shed, she said.

There are also out-of-towners, or visitors to the area, who have played at The Shed, she said.

“I would say we are averaging about 10 people a month who come through and play on their way to Florida, and then they stop and play on their way back,” she said. “But we are told all the time that people are vacationing now where they can find a place to play.”

She and others in the group hope Port Royal will embrace the sport and thinks it would be a “very good asset” to help market the area.

“For Port Royal, that would be real feather in their cap,” she said.

Above: Pickleball enthusiasts will soon be looking for a new venue in which to play their fast-paced game as they will be losing The Shed in Port Royal to development. Here, Rosemary Rosen returns a volley while teammate Jan Glover sets up during their weekly game Friday morning at The Shed.