The Student News Site of Kinnelon High School

Colt Chronicle

The Student News Site of Kinnelon High School

Colt Chronicle

The Student News Site of Kinnelon High School

Colt Chronicle

Pickleball Takes Over Kinnelon

As pickleball sweeps the nation, the Colt Chronicle spends time with a group of KHS seniors taken over by pickleball fever.
Photo by Alex Garcia
Akshat Mittal and Andrew Garcia duel in a close one-on-one pickleball game at the Boonton Avenue field.

The oppressive mid-July sun beats down on the Boonton Avenue courts where four athletes lay it all on the line for tournament glory – and bragging rights. The object connecting the athletes is the yellow, Wiffle-ball-esque pickleball: the quintessential icon of America’s fastest-growing sport.

Ever since pens were put down at the conclusion of the final AP test in May of 2022, a group of KHS seniors have spent much of their free time adopting the sport of pickleball as their own. America’s fastest-growing sport has lodged itself in Kinnelon, spreading to many new courts and expanding to many first-time players. 

 Until recently, pickleball had been an obscure sport relegated mostly to elderly communities and shorelines, but since the pandemic forced Americans outside to see each other safely, it has spread nationwide. Many are introduced to pickleball in ways as quirky as the sport itself. “I first played with my cousins two years ago during COVID at their country house up in New York. At first, I was being forced to play with my cousins, but what kept me was how it brought us together,” said Andrew Garcia.

Nestled in shore communities, many day-trippers and house-renters gazed upon the sport for the first time at the Jersey Shore. The unmistakable “pop” noise of pickleball on paddles draws one in like the classic siren song and snares them in its addictive, inescapable game. Ben Gross found out about pickleball this way, he says, “I learned when my parents first got their shore house a couple of years ago. At first, I wasn’t intrigued at all really, it was a bunch of older people. I only came to realize how fun it was when I went and played with my brother.”

Gross was among the first to introduce pickleball into the area when he invited friends to play on the newly painted courts on Boonton Avenue. From the first pickleball game, he knew something was different about this sport that felt like capturing lightning in a bottle. “From the first game, there was just something different about pickleball. It wasn’t a one-time thing. We all kept wanting to come back.”

The group of Pickleballers in Kinnelon quickly expanded as more students wondered where their friends were going day after day. “I started playing with a few friends around May. It’s fun, it’s easy, [it’s] exercise,” said Jackson Wood.

 Another player, Alex Reardon, said he started playing because, “All of my buddies were playing and I just wanted to play games.”

The spread of pickleball can quickly be attributed to the overwhelmingly positive word of mouth it inspires. Reardon kept with the sport because, “The competitiveness that goes on with the games that we have, makes them so driving and powerful for me. Then when I go home I want to come back and play more. I go to sleep, I wake up, I wanna play more. Pickleball has become my life, man.” 

The group of consistent pickleball players quickly fell in love with the strategic play style and the bonds formed as a group. “[camaraderie] is a huge part of the game. Teamwork in doubles is really most of the game, it matters more than skill,” said Wood. Expanding on the strategy, Wood says, “I try to put spin on the ball, that’s a good strategy generally.”

The players have garnered many signature moments during their pickleball careers and it is the genuine sparks of exceptional teamwork, achievement, and joviality that lead to countless unforgettable stories. Will Cappello said, “A teammate and I had a comeback against Ben Gross and his team from a two to zero series deficit to win the five-game series. At the end of the day, pickleball is about being a dominant force.”

Though teamwork is part of the game, inevitably trash-talk and rivalries begin to rise. Andrew Garcia said, “My favorite aspect of the game is playing better than my twin,” while later saying, “The game strengthens, yet also severs bonds between people.” 

Originally, many players attempted to play pickleball respectfully, but Alex Reardon said, “I could say that it could be seen as a gentlemen’s game, but once you get into it, you put your whole heart into a game, and then all respect leaves the court.”

The players have cemented their interest in pickleball and now plan on expanding past the courts on Boonton Avenue. At the Stonybrook Highlands Pool, a tournament was held with over a dozen pickleball participants. Andrew Garcia and Jackson Wood lost in the finale against Ben Gross and his teammate, highlighting the first official win for the pickleball group.

Shining through all the trash-talking and rivalries is an unmistakable beacon of friendship and sportsmanship. Gross said, “The sport brings together friends that I wouldn’t usually be around as much, making it a great time.”

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