Marco YMCA opens nine pickleball courts as sport grows across Collier

The YMCA of South Collier celebrated Friday the grand opening of nine uncovered pickleball courts on Marco Island as the sport grows in popularity across the county.

The game is similar to tennis, but the courts are smaller and players use paddles and a WIFFLE ball.

For Marco winter resident Paul Jesnek, pickleball is not only a sport but also a great way to make friends. He said he started playing pickleball with his wife five years ago.

"Pickleball is a very social sport because men, women, couples and kids can play together," Jesnek said.

Preston Steckler, 8, plays pickleball on one of nine new courts at the YMCA of South Collier-Marco on Friday, January 22, 2021.

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As a person who has played tennis his whole life, Jesnek said he prefers to play pickleball because of the camaraderie among players.

"If you hit a bad shot, people laugh about it," Jesnek said.

Marco winter resident Jill Wilson said she started taking pickleball classes a year ago at her hometown's Y in Ohio.

"I love pickleball because of the exercise, and I like to compete," Wilson said.

Once thought of as a sport for older adults, YMCA is making it more accessible to a younger crowd.

Maria Steckler said her sons Tristan, 10, Preston, 8, and Dawson, 6, love taking pickleball classes at the Y.

"I like that you don't have to play against a lot of people," Tristan Steckler said.

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the U.S. with over 3.5 million players, according to the Minto US Open Pickleball Championships, which are held every April in Naples. The Open has grown from 850 players in 2016 to 2,700 registered last year. Last year's tournament was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The finals of this year’s men’s and women’s pro-level events will be televised live.

YMCA has five additional covered pickleball courts on Marco, bringing the total number of courts at the Y  to 14.

YMCA of South Collier celebrated the opening of nine pickleball courts on Marco Island on Jan. 22, 2021.

The city of Marco Island operates another nine pickleball courts with 328 active members, Samantha Malloy, manager of the city's park and recreation department, wrote in an email Thursday.

Home to the Open, Collier County's East Naples Community Park has 64 courts. The city of Naples and the county have additional courts, two in Fleischmann Park and eight in Veterans Community Park. Greater Naples YMCA also has indoor courts.

In all, there are now approximately 100 pickleball courts in the county.

"Southwest Florida is a mecca for pickleball," Jesnek said.

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