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Pickleball is growing on Florida's college campuses

University of Florida Students and Gainesville residents alike seen playing pickleball at the Southwest Recreation courts. (Joey Palus/WUFT News)
University of Florida Students and Gainesville residents alike seen playing pickleball at the Southwest Recreation courts. (Joey Palus/WUFT News)

Pickleball is on the rise, and the addicting sport has made its way onto college campuses throughout the state.

A sport that was originally made popular by a “senior” aged crowd, is now played and enjoyed by college students. Promoting the perfect balance of a social interaction and competitive spirit, it’s no surprise pickleball is such a massive favorite on college campuses statewide.

To those who may be unfamiliar with the sport, it could best be explained as a combination of ping pong, badminton and tennis. Opponents can play singles or doubles, with the main goal being to win points, games and eventually, the entire match.

While it remains to be unseen if pickleball will rise the ladder of collegiate sports, many schools throughout the state have begun to form club teams. While these club teams are not directly affiliated with their desired school through NCAA regulations, they are still able to travel and compete against other colleges throughout the state.

Martin Michelsen, 22, was one of the original members of the University of Florida Pickleball Club and is currently a member of the club’s executive board. While he actively plays and competes within club events, Michelsen is most proud of the growth in which the sport has shown, and the hit it has become throughout campus.

“Pickleball at UF has exploded, and the courts are almost always packed, regardless of practice or not,” Michelsen said. “The Club started in the spring of 2022, and at the time, there were around 200 members, but now we are up to over 400.”

Along with the University of Florida, pickleball has found great success throughout the state, with one of the most popular spots being the University of Tampa.

Found right in the heart of downtown Tampa, the University of Tampa is well-equipped with various pickleball courts, and areas to play. Due to the great access, many students have begun to play, and a club pickleball team has formed.

Connor Pelesh, 20, is a student at the University of Tampa and an active pickleball player. He competes on the university's club pickleball team and helps to organize the intramural leagues around campus.

“Pickleball has grown so much since I have been at UT, and it’s truly remarkable to see,” Pelesh said. “The club team used to only use two courts, but now can use four, and always have people waiting to play. The growth has been seen within the intramural leagues as well, as sign-ups have grown from year to year.”

Along with the University of Florida and University of Tampa, the sport of pickleball has seen immense growth on college campuses throughout the state. Examples are Florida State University, University of Central Florida and University of Miami, with all three schools having competitive and intramural clubs.

While competitive leagues and club teams have seen great success, pickleball is also well-represented by members of the student body who simply enjoy the sport.

The social aspect the sport promotes along with the great exercise it allows has brought students with no prior experience to play and enjoy all pickleball has to offer.

Jake Colvin, 21, is a senior at the University of Florida, pursuing a degree within electrical engineering. Growing up, Colvin never played pickleball, nor any sports that are closely related, such as tennis.

Colvin was first introduced to the sport when he got back to Gainesville during his fall semester and has been hooked since.

“Pickleball is one of the most fun and enjoyable sports I’ve ever played,” Colvin said. “I was able to pick it up right away, without any prior instruction. It has become one of my favorite hobbies, and something I look forward to week after week.”

Joseph is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.