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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Pickleball is a big ‘dill’ at UC Davis

How the beloved, beginner-friendly sport captured the hearts of students and community members in Davis 


By REBEKA ZELJKO — features@theaggie.org 


Pickleball’s appeal has reached Davis, and it’s here to stay. This sport has grown in popularity both on and off campus and shows no signs of slowing down.

According to the USA Pickleball website, pickleball is a sport that “combines many elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong” and is played “both indoors or outdoors on a badminton-sized court and a slightly modified tennis net.”

Ed Ju, a UC Davis Class of 2016 alumnus and social media manager for @davispickleball, said that pickleball is a sport for everyone. 

“When people start a new sport, you usually suck at it,” Ju said. “It’s frustrating, even if you practice a sport for years, and it’s still hard. But with pickleball, you try for your first time, you hit the ball around with some friends, and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute. I can actually be pretty good at this sport.’ I think that’s the real charm.”

Ju was introduced to pickleball by his friends, and he instantly fell in love with it. 

“I found a community center near me that had open play at the courts every morning,” Ju said. “I showed up just to see a bunch of older people, and I thought it would be an easy win. I got my butt kicked by a bunch of 70-year-olds. Ever since then, I’ve committed my time to learning strategies and practicing whenever I can.” 

After finding pickleball a few years ago, Ju was able to combine his profession and passion into spearheading pickleball in the Davis community. 

“I moved back to Davis, and I noticed there weren’t a lot of young people playing,” Ju said. “So I wanted to grow that aspect and get UC Davis involved, and now it’s my full-time job. Every month, we do tournaments; we do weekly classes; we are getting involved in the senior center. I love the pickleball community here at Davis.” 

Even more recently, there has been a surge of involvement on campus. Sam Glick, a third-year managerial economics and statistics double major, founded the Pickleball Club at UC Davis at the start of winter quarter, which has quickly popularized the sport. 

“Young people love the casual competitiveness,” Glick said. “If you want to go crazy, you can, but you don’t have to. It’s also nice because people who aren’t traditionally super good at sports can still have a lot of fun, score points and win games. You can still be really good at it.”

Glick said the welcoming nature of the sport is one of its main selling points. Anyone of any age and physical ability can enjoy it. 

“It’s great because you can have a group of people who meet through a common interest and also get some new people out there,” Glick said. “I think the idea that it’s more casual attracts a lot of people because they can be comfortable on the court, and they can be comfortable making mistakes. The inclusivity of the whole deal is a lot of fun.” 

The club quickly caught the attention of many students, including Melanie Albert, a fourth-year evolution ecology and biodiversity major.

“I feel like the pickleball club is first and foremost a great way to meet new people,” Albert said. “I’ve met so many through this club, and I wouldn’t have had that opportunity otherwise. It’s also a great way to exercise and get off the schoolwork grind.”

Albert said that the appeal to college students is the range of people who can partake in the sport and find a place in the club. 

“Everyone is definitely encouraged to get involved, especially those who have never played,” Albert said. “I know it can be scary to get out there and try new things, but it’s so easy and fun to play despite experience or skill level.”

The club is also a great way to up your pickleball game, Albert said. 

“Another thing to look forward to is every now and then, we have a professional pickleball coach out there on the court with us,” Albert said. “It helps us grow our skills, strategies and become stronger players.”

These perks are just the beginning of what the pickleball club hopes to offer. The future of pickleball in Davis is actively being grown, according to Glick.

“I have a lot of big ideas for the club,” Glick said. “I want to do more socials, tournaments and have more practices. We also want to register next year as a club sport, do more drills and, the biggest goal of all, get a pickleball court on campus.”

Glick said a campus pickleball court would be the next, most impactful step to solidifying the sport’s presence on campus. 

“It’s such a great sport for college kids, and we don’t have anywhere to play on campus,” Glick said. “We have 12 tennis courts but not a single pickleball court, so my goal is to talk to the NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] tennis coordinators and get one of the tennis courts converted to four pickleball courts.”

Glick shares these ambitions with Ju, who said he wants to continue pickleball’s presence and growth in Davis, especially among younger people. 

“One of my big visions is collegiate pickleball,” Ju said. “We are starting to see this sprout up around the country, where teams can compete with other colleges. And so that’s one of my goals is to grow the community here.”

Ju said there are many ways that pickleball has successfully been popularized to younger demographics. 

“I think word of mouth and social media really spread the word,” Ju said. “I mean, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Tom Brady all bought pickleball teams. And so it’s starting to catch on that it’s not just a fad, but it’s an actual legitimate sport that is not only really great at the recreational level but also at the professional level.” 

The Pickleball Club at UC Davis meets Tuesday nights from 8 to 10 p.m., and Saturdays at 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Redwood Park. You can follow the club on Instagram @pickleballatucd — or almost certainly count on finding a Davis pickleball member at the courts as well.

“The club grows every week,” Albert said, “and we look forward to getting people involved.”


Written by: Rebeka Zeljko — features@theaggie.org