Watch the video: Pickleball league draws a crowd at JCC


PROVIDENCE – By 7 a.m., the members of the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center pickleball league are already brandishing their paddles. Every Wednesday morning, while most Rhode Islanders are debating whether to hit the snooze button, these players have worked up a sweat on the court, whacking balls over the net while calling out, “Nice volley!”

“When we brought it back after COVID, [pickleball] really exploded,” says Rob Castellucci, 31, the JCC’s director of personal training and recreational sports. “Every day, I get at least an email or a call with people asking to join in our pickleball league. Even still, with it being such a big sport right now, there’s not as many places as you would think capitalizing on it. We’re one that people tend to love coming back to time and time again.”

There are two types of people in this world: those who think “pickleball” is a funny name and picture a bunch of friends playing soccer with gherkins, and those who are pickleball fanatics, who own their own paddles and count the hours until their next showdown on the court. There is virtually nothing in the middle, especially at the JCC.

If you’re in the former camp, here’s the lowdown: pickleball is played on a court with paddles and a hollow plastic ball. As one league member put it: “It’s the perfect blend of tennis and pingpong.”

The court’s dimensions are 20-by-44 feet, about one-third the area of a tennis court, and the ball doesn’t travel as far as a tennis ball. Games can be fierce and fast-moving, but players don’t run much, making it a particularly attractive sport for players with mobility issues and the elderly.

Pickleball was invented in 1965 by former Rep. Joel Pritchard, of Washington state, and a handful of friends. The game has been popular in the northeastern U.S. for decades, but in recent years pickleball has grown into a national obsession. New courts have sprung up across the country, especially in hotels and senior centers. Local demand has grown exponentially as well, but there still aren’t many dedicated spaces.

“It was still big before COVID, but not quite as big as it is now,” says Castellucci. “We were starting it up from scratch [before COVID], and there weren’t many places in Rhode Island that had it yet.”

Today, the pickleball league has a full roster, with 90 registered players. They play in the JCC’s gymnasium, where three pickleball courts are set up on Wednesday mornings, as well as Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. The league is fairly informal, with rotating pickup matches and no documented scores.

“You’re going to get to play with everybody who’s registered in that time slot, in that pickup league,” says Castellucci. “It’s pretty cool that you kind of get to weave in and out. Instead of being on a team – and if you can’t make it on a given night, then you’re letting your team down – we just figured this works a lot better, and people tend to enjoy it that way.”

Castellucci plans to add a couple more time slots this fall, and he foresees formal clinics and perhaps a tournament in the future.

“It’s really a transitional game that anybody can play,” he says. “Even kids have gotten into it now. It’s become quite a big thing.”

To learn more about pickleball at the JCC, including fees and schedules, contact Rob Castellucci at

ROBERT ISENBERG ( is the multimedia producer for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and a writer for Jewish Rhode Island.

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