Pickleball’s popularity soars across Viera, Brevard


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John Tresize, right, tries to play pickleball at least three times a week.

Photo by Jeff Navin

Once school started throughout Brevard in August, Phil McGibney and his pickleball buddies couldn’t wait to place the lines on the courts at the Viera Regional Park Community Center.

Summer activities had concluded for children with the beginning of the new school term and it was time for pickleball to resume its busy schedule of five afternoons a week at the popular gathering place. McGibney is the site coordinator for pickleball at the Community Center and at Health First Pro-Health and Fitness Center in Viera.

McGibney left his native Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina and eventually ended up in Viera in the fall of 2006 after residing briefly in Frostproof. While living in Frostproof, he was introduced to the sport of pickleball. He wanted to keep playing his new sport when he arrived in Viera.

“When I got here, I asked, ‘Where can I play pickleball?’ People said, ‘What the heck is pickleball?’ Now, we’ve got quite a group. It’s like racquetball more than anything else. And tennis. I still can hit the tennis ball, but I can’t move around the court as well as the past. It’s about the same as a badminton court, so there’s not as much room to cover. I don’t have to jump up and down as much.”

There are 14 venues in Brevard County where pickleball players can play their favorite sport. Besides the two Viera locations, other places to play include the South Beach Community Center in Melbourne Beach, the West Melbourne Veterans Memorial Complex, the David R. Schechter Community Center in Satellite Beach, Sandrift Community Center on Singleton Avenue in Titusville, the Nancy Hanson Recreation Center in Cape Canaveral, the Flutie Sports Complex in Melbourne Beach, the Eau Gallie Civic Center in Melbourne, the Grant Street Community Center in Melbourne, the Walter Butler Community Center in Sharpes, the St. Teresa Catholic School Gym in Titusville and the Wickham Park Community Center in Melbourne.

As the USAPA Central Florida District Ambassador, Scott Nelson is pleased with the growth of the sport.

“We’ve got the 14 venues and there are about 550 players that I know about who play,” Nelson said. “That’s my email list. But, I know there’s more than that who play.”

Nelson was a competitive racquetball player for 35 years before he began playing pickleball.

“Racquetball and tennis were pretty tough on the body,” Nelson said. “Around the age of 50, I started having some severe issues with my knees and hips. Stuff was just starting to wear out from overuse. I started playing pickleball about five, six years ago and I took a liking to it. I could play this another 30 years.”

Baytree resident Dennis Weckerly, who has lived in Brevard since 2002, was introduced to the sport by his sister-in-law, who lives in South Carolina, about five years ago.

“I was primarily a basketball and soccer player when I was younger and I moved on to softball as I got older,” said the 64-year-old Weckerly, who is considered one of the better pickleball players in Brevard. “My sister-in-law lives in a 55-and-older community in South Carolina where they have some dedicated players and pickleball courts. She started playing and got excited about the sport. She invited me to play (when we were visiting) and I fell in love with it from the first day on. If you have played tennis or racquetball, you will pick up pickleball easily.”

Pickleball also is an inexpensive sport.

“You can buy a racket anywhere from $59 to $100,” Wecklerly said. “I have five rackets ― two outdoor and three indoor. But, you don’t need that many.”

Since it’s primarily a doubles sport at the recreational level, it’s easy to make new friends.

“It teaches you to count on your partner,” Weckerly said. “The sport stresses teamwork. I like it when I’m playing someone of equal talent. It’s a fast-action, quick sport and good aerobic exercise.”

Melbourne resident John Tresize recently played pickleball at the Viera Community Center for the first time.

“I plan to play here more,” the 58-year-old Tresize said. “I’ve made a lot of friends playing pickleball. It’s like a family, and I like that the sport is celebrating its 50th anniversary. I started playing about one and a half years ago.”

Tresize retired from his job with AT&T in 2012.

“I had bypass surgery and this sport has helped me recover,” Tresize said. “I have been an active walker and cyclist, but I wasn’t really into team sports. The people who introduced me to pickleball have been generous with their time and in guiding me with the rules and manner of play. I have found that comforting. It could have been intimidating.”

At 77, Danny Nail had enjoyed his retirement immensely since leaving his job in 1995 as an engineer with NASA. He is an avid table tennis player (ping pong) who also plays golf.

“I read an article about pickleball and I thought it was something I wanted to try,” said Nail, who lives in Cocoa Beach. “It’s similar to table tennis ― the reaction, timing and precision. Those types of skills transfer when you're close to the net or on the line. For anyone who is retired, there is fun and fitness and pickleball is the ticket.”

For information on pickleball in Brevard County, contact Nelson at 321-626-4937.