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Love the game or hate the noise, a pickleball craze is sweeping CT

Shoreline Pickleball — Milford, Conn.
Sabrina Garone
/
WSHU
Shoreline Pickleball — Milford, Conn.

America’s fastest growing sport is pickleball, and it’s no different in Connecticut. Governor Ned Lamont has even called it "the Taylor Swift of sports.” 

The number of courts being built in parks around the state has been exciting for some, and a major annoyance for others. But entrepreneurs are coming up with solutions.

I play tennis at Milford’s Eisenhower Park when the weather’s nice, and there’s usually some waiting around involved for a court to free up. That was hardly an issue this summer. In fact some nights, my group was the only one there.

But on the pickleball courts across the park, it was a different story. Most nights, all eight were in use, and crowds of folks were waiting to play.

Pickleball courts at Eisenhower Park — Milford, Conn.
Sabrina Garone
/
WSHU
Pickleball courts at Eisenhower Park — Milford, Conn.

So, what is pickleball?

"It’s ping-pong or table tennis, standing on the table," said Angelo Rossetti. He's a pickleball national champion, and coach in Connecticut.

Of course, you’re not really standing on the table. But you are hitting a wiffle ball over a low net with something that resembles a ping-pong paddle.

Rossetti said the game is relatively simple — keep the ball in motion without hitting the net or letting the ball bounce twice, like in tennis.

“And you can have a competitive game because there’s not a lot of domination like there is in tennis where you have an overhand serve.”

Since there’s less court to cover, all skill levels and ages can mix together in pickleball — men, women, young and old. But the sport has been known to attract older crowds.

Angelo Rossetti won a national pickleball title in 2023. He and his twin brother Ettore have together set three world records in racket sports.
Sabrina Garone
/
WSHU
Angelo Rossetti won a national pickleball title in 2023. He and his twin brother Ettore have together set three world records in racket sports.

“It works on your resiliency, your hand-eye coordination, and also your brain activity," said Rossetti. "So, I think it’s great for your mental health in particular. Not just your physical health.”

Pickle-baller Eileen Torres said for her, it is also about community.

“It’s just a wonderful game that brings everyone together," she said. "You meet wonderful people from all backgrounds and just have a lot of fun!”

Torres said that the community has grown so much Milford is running out of room!

“More courts with lights, that stay open at night, absolutely!"

All sounds pretty good, right? Not if you live near the outdoor pickleball court.

“It’s a loud sport. It’s a plastic paddle and a plastic ball so it does make noise," said Brian Malia, co-owner of an indoor pickleball facility. "And residents that are near the pickleball courts complain, but it’s just like a revving car coming down the street. There’s only so much you can do about it.” 

When Malia's Shoreline Pickleball opened in Milford in November, he said local players were very excited.

Shoreline Pickleball — Milford, Conn.
Sabrina Garone
/
WSHU
Shoreline Pickleball — Milford, Conn.

“It was awesome, it was great. It was, thank god, somebody’s finally doing it. We have a place to play in the winter, etcetera," Malia said.

Shoreline is just one of a few indoor facilities to open in Connecticut recently. Pickleball America opened in Stamford in September. It’s one of the largest indoor facilities in the country with 27 courts.

Another massive complex is expected to open in Plainville soon with 24-7 access. Middletown just got the green light for 5.7 acres of land. It wants to build indoor courts, a clubhouse, an event space and on-site daycare.

Brian Malia is not worried about the enthusiasm for the sport slowing down any time soon.

“I speak with other owners of clubs that haven’t opened yet, that are investing a lot more than we did. So, I do see the growth," he said. "They are expanding into collegiate levels nationwide already. It’s not going anywhere.” 

Players like Eileen Torres may go indoors in the winter, despite the expense, but she still prefers it outdoors.

"There’s something to be said about playing outside in the fresh air until 10 at night, and getting started at 8 in the morning," she said.

Sabrina is host and producer of WSHU’s daily podcast After All Things. She also produces the climate podcast Higher Ground and other long-form news and music programs at the station. Sabrina spent two years as a WSHU fellow, working as a reporter and assisting with production of The Full Story.