Pickleball craze leads to tourney

Deadline to register is March 13

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It will be six indoor courts of dinking and dunking March 21 when Wilson Parks and Recreation and Wilson City Little League host the Wilson Luncheon Lions Club Recreational Pickleball Tournament.

Gary Farmer of the Wilson Luncheon Lions said the club created the signature event to capitalize on the exponential growth pickleball has seen in the last year in Wilson.

“It’s growing, and we will grow with it,” Farmer said. “It will be ours. We will do it indoor when everybody has got cabin fever. We’ve got six courts. Nobody else has got six courts.”

The Recreation Park Center on Sunset Road will be the tournament’s site.

“We couldn’t be happier to help the Lions Club host the first area pickleball tournament,” said David Lee, recreation director for the city of Wilson. “The popularity of pickleball, especially amongst adults here in Wilson, is following the national explosion that pickleball is experiencing on a national level. We are glad it has caught on here in Wilson like we thought it would, and events like the Wilson Lions Club tournament just make it that much more satisfying. It will be another great event that brings people to our city.”

Farmer said the double-elimination mixed open doubles tournament will have 24 teams playing 47 games to determine the winners.


Pickleball is a small version of tennis played on a smaller court with paddles instead of racquets.

In 2019, the city installed two pickleball courts at the newly renovated Rotary Park. The courts stay busy all the time.

That’s where David Nolan first saw it.

“When they shut the gate behind me, I never got out,” Nolan said. “It’s addicting, very addicting. We play six days a week out there at the park. I think it is absolutely fantastic.”

As interest picked up through the course of the year, the recreation center added courts.

“It is as competitive as you want it to be,” said Brian Dekeyzer of Wilson. “We leave here sweating every day. We have all upped our game since we started playing. When we first started playing, nobody was good, and now we have raised our level. We get some matches on and it gets very heated. If it’s played right, you are moving.”

Lin Green of Wilson earned a gold medal in the 2019 Senior Games for mixed doubles and a bronze medallion in doubles, both in pickleball.

“I played in the state tournament, and there were over 750 participants in pickleball, so it is the fastest growing sport for seniors in the state and the nation,” Green said. “I played basketball 3-on-3 in the national tournaments. Basketball is the leading number of participants, track and field is second, and pickleball is third. It is a fast-growing sport. It is a lot of fun and anybody can play.”

Pickleballer Ralph Owens, 86, from Wilson, had played ping-pong but not tennis.

“I had never even heard of it until I started in February,” Owens said. “As far as I am concerned, I am sold on it. I am still having a hard time doing it, but I am going to keep trying it. I am very healthy. I just had a physical, and everything is right up to snuff.”

Owens, an Army veteran, said it’s a great way to stay in shape.

“This is what you’ve got to do to stay young as far as I am concerned,” Owens said.

“The more active you are, the healthier you are,” Green said. “If you can stay active and play, it is going to increase your longevity, make for a healthier life and it helps your lifestyle.”


“I am an ex-tennis player, so this fits me perfect,” said Braxton Patterson, programs and marketing supervisor for Wilson Parks and Recreation. “It’s a social game. There are many friendships to be made from it.”

“It is a very social sport. When you come down, you will play with everybody here if you stay for three or four hours,” Dekeyzer said. “If you are sitting down between games, you are getting to know those people too. People are very welcoming and want to show you how to play and get you involved in the sport.”

There is male and female participation and diversity.

Green said the players are interacting, meeting new people and developing friendships.

“The fellowship that’s involved in this is unreal,” Owens said. “I have a lot of good friends out here. It makes me feel good every time I come.”

The group of players in Wilson is broadening.

“People are coming from Rocky Mount to play here. People are coming from Goldsboro to play here and Farmville to play here,” Green said. “With the facilities that we have, people are wanting to come and play. I don’t think people realize how much fun it is. I have never been around a group that was so inviting for novices in trying to teach people how to play and develop their skill level and enjoy the game together.”

Newcomers are always welcome.

“They are very accommodating about making sure you learn how to play,” Patterson said. “They don’t pick on you because you are the weaker players.”


The tournament is open to all skill levels for people ages 16 and up.

Cost is $60 per team. Checks should be made payable to Wilson City Little League and sent to Pickleball Tournament, P.O. Box 10, Wilson, NC 27893. Registration deadline is March 13.

For more information or to register, call Braxton Patterson at 252-399-2285 or email him at bpatterson@wilsonnc.org.