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A spirit that is not afraid

Pickleball grows in Auburn along with court wait times

Seniors Colson Rayburn, Sam Smith, Gordy Pease, and Gray Voltz play a doubles match at the RO pickleball courts on April 9, 2024
Seniors Colson Rayburn, Sam Smith, Gordy Pease, and Gray Voltz play a doubles match at the RO pickleball courts on April 9, 2024

Pickleball, a sport much like a mix of tennis and ping pong, has experienced an unprecedented rise in popularity and has become one of America’s favorite pastimes. In Auburn, this burgeoning interest has led to the creation of a pickleball club and a large and expanding community on the hardtop. However, pickleball’s popularity has created growing pains, such as significant wait times.

Due to persistent high demand, there is usually a large group of students waiting for a pickleball court at both of Auburn’s locations at any given time. Both locations, one on Samford Avenue and one near the resident overflow (RO) parking by the Village, offer no way to reserve a court aside from the Pickleball Club’s allotted times.  

When asked about the length of court wait times, Hannah Black, Auburn graduate student and frequent pickleball player, said that she would come more often if wait times were shorter. 

“I always have to wait at RO, sometimes up to an hour,” Black said. 

An informal system for lining up exacerbates this issue. Some courts have multiple entrances, and more than one line will form. This makes it challenging to keep track of the next person in the queue for an open court.  

Due to the court shortage, players started to use tennis courts. Playing on tennis courts comes with its own set of issues. At RO, for instance, the tennis courts have a higher net and do not have pickleball lines. Pickleballers often play with the slightly larger inner lines but sometimes encounter resentment from tennis players, who occasionally face court shortages themselves. However, Wyatt Weldon, member of the pickleball club who also plays tennis at RO, said pickleball players have never frustrated him as a tennis player. 

“I’ve had to do it a few times… I feel like there are enough tennis courts to make up for the lack of pickleball courts,” Weldon said. 

Still, at the Samford courts, this problem is particularly tangible. The four tennis courts all have the pickleball lines painted on, despite six other pickleball-only courts. It is common at the Samford courts to encounter all four tennis courts in use by pickleball players simultaneously.  

Recreation and Wellness Director of Facilities and Operations Scott Harper said, "Recreation and Wellness is aware of the desire for additional [pickleball] courts and is always looking ahead to meet the future needs of our students.

 “We would love to find space for additional courts, but that will take time and land… We have been exploring portable options to convert tennis courts into pickleball courts, and we hope to have something available at the Recreation and Wellness Center in the near future."

To many college students, pickleball is more than a fun and accessible game. Pickleball has fostered an active hub of friendships and competition that thrives on the Samford and RO courts. This community, however, faces an issue that will require Auburn’s time and resources to solve. Overcrowding on the courts is already lessening participation and will continue to hamper the sport’s growth in the future. To this end, the university appears to be working on a solution so that one of Auburn’s newest interests can flourish.  

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