Indy Pickleball Club Is Growing the Sport In Central Indiana
Photographer / Michael Durr
On a Saturday afternoon in 1965, three men and their families decided to play a game of badminton. Unable to find a shuttlecock, they improvised. They lowered the net, poked holes in a plastic ball and crafted paddles out of spare plywood. Pickleball was born.
After 55 years, this combination of badminton, table tennis and traditional tennis is one of the fastest-growing sports in America. According to the 2019 Pickleball Participant Report by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, 3,300,000 people play pickleball in the United States.
Marcus Woodhouse, president and co-founder of Indy Pickleball Club (IPC) says he fell in love with the game about five years ago.
“As soon as I played it for the first time I was hooked,” he says. “I grew up playing ping-pong. Me and my brother are super competitive. It reminded me of shrinking yourself down to a ping-pong table. It’s competitive, it’s fun and it’s also social. I just kept playing tournaments and got more addicted.”
It was at these tournaments where Woodhouse says he was inspired to create IPC.
“I travel for pickleball tournaments all over,” he says. “All the tournaments are held by the clubs in all the bigger cities. I noticed the need in our city to get one voice in one place. It seems like more of the small towns are getting pickleball courts and the bigger cities haven’t caught up to the smaller cities. I wanted to get tournaments here. I wanted to do something for the city – to do something for kids and grow the sport in the Indianapolis area.”
IPC officially launched in August of 2019, and the club’s stated mission is “to grow the sport of pickleball in central Indiana by developing and promoting recreation, league and tournament opportunities for players of all ages and ability.” In its brief existence, IPC membership has grown to more than 100 pickleball players. Woodhouse says he expects that number to continue to grow.
“Our ultimate goal, obviously, would be to have well over 1,000-plus members,” he says.
The number of people who play pickleball increased 650% between 2013 and 2019 according to the USA Pickleball Association. 2020 has seen the postponement or cancellation of pickleball tournaments all over the country, but Woodhouse says he believes the coronavirus pandemic is bringing more people to the sport.
“I think COVID has really helped bring families to the game,” he says. “Once they opened up the courts I saw a bunch of families learning to play at the parks and doing that as a family.”
Woodhouse attributes pickleball’s increasing popularity to the game’s accessibility.
“Everyone can play it,” he says. “You can be 90 years old or eight years old and play. You can be a former NFL player or basketball player and play. It has no restrictions. With tennis you’ve got to be pretty athletic and pretty skilled. You have to find people of similar skill to make it competitive. With pickleball you go out to a court, like the courts out at Cyntheanne Park, and find people of all skill levels out there. It’s a much easier game to pick up.”
Through events like Brawl at the Brewery, a three-weekend tournament held at Four Day Ray Brewing, IPC provides pickleball players the opportunity to compete against players at similar skill levels. It also procures courts for beginner classes where newcomers can learn the game. The proceeds from these events are put back into the club to fund its long-term goals.
The club is working towards becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
“It’s about pickleball and only pickleball,” Woodhouse says.
One of the club leaders’ primary goals is to work with parks-and-recreation departments to find a suitable location to build the Indy Pickleball Club Complex (IPCC). According to the club’s website, the IPCC would include 16 indoor courts and 16 outdoor courts. Woodhouse says he wants the facility to hold classes to grow the game, as well as major events to draw people to Indianapolis for pickleball.
“Our ultimate goal is to host a national championship,” he says.
In addition to the IPCC, Woodhouse says he wants IPC to help build pickleball courts throughout central Indiana.
“We’re just trying to find places for that to be organized, and to just keep growing the sport so that we can introduce more and more people to it,” he says. “One of my ultimate goals is to be able to have pickleball in every school. Having facilities where schools can bring their kids would be one of my absolute dreams. Hopefully one day we’ll see it as a competitive sport in high schools.”
IPC’s next event is the “IPC BEST. SPORT. EVER.” tournament, scheduled to take place October 2 through October 4. There will be a youth scramble on Friday, men’s and women’s doubles on Saturday, and mixed doubles on Sunday. Woodhouse says IPC is currently working to secure indoor locations for three pickleball tournaments this winter.