Dan Finnerty – Sports Writer
The first-ever Battle of the Mountains Pickleball Challenge occurred Saturday, Nov. 12, in Rabun County, Ga. The tournament pitted the Blue Ridge Mountains Pickleball Club of Franklin against the Rabun Pickleball Club. A 20-person team, composed of 10 men and 10 women from each club, squared off in a very hard-fought match with Franklin winning (26 wins to 24). After each tourney the winner takes home the coveted trophy. For now, it is being housed in the Carpenter Community Center. Going forward, the clubs hope to hold this event at least once a year.
Pickleball is quickly becoming more popular across the country as evidenced by how many tennis and basketball courts have been converted or temporarily restructured for the game. A trend is happening toward younger segments of the population participating in the sport. For some time, pickleball has been regarded as the pastime of retired senior citizens who are eager to fill their hours with some indoor or outdoor activity. However, statistics show that in the past two years the average age of pickleballers is somewhere between 38-41 years old, proof of the sport’s growing appeal.
George McClure, president of the Franklin pickleball club, has been playing the game since 2018 when he retired to the Franklin area following a career as a history professor at the University of Alabama. McClure likens pickleball to previous sports he has played.
“It has features of tennis and ping pong; the singles game resembles the former, the doubles game the latter. I especially like singles, but play more doubles given the number of players and shortage of courts.”
He also pointed out that the group has some “outstanding” players such as Ed Bresnahan, who recently won the championship in singles and as part of a doubles team at the North Carolina State Senior Games Finals.
The sport has grown steadily since 2010, when only a few people locally were playing regularly. Currently, McClure has about 170 players on his email contact list and points out, “We have a great variety of players, men and women, retirees and 30-year-olds, locals, and transplants … folks of every professional and political background. [The game] has created a great sense of community.”
However, shortages of courts pose challenges for the sport. People can play at certain times on three indoor courts at the Carpenter Community Center or on four outdoor courts at Parker Meadows. Both options are relegated to temporary nets and can only be accessed during work hours. More permanent courts have been on the wish list for some time and efforts to remedy that shortfall are now being undertaken. Optimism is increasing with the Macon County Recreation Committee and the Macon County Commissioners approving funding for new courts.
According to McClure, “Eight courts will be built on the right-hand side of the girls softball field next to the Wendy’s (off Georgia Highway in Franklin).” The field will be slightly reduced and reoriented to the left to accommodate the courts and bathrooms that are already on site will be renovated. McClure also noted, “Our group (Blue Ridge Mountains Pickleball Club) is now raising money to build a pavilion on site. It should be a wonderful center for Franklin pickleball.”