Fun for everyone! Pickleball camp lets kids hit it back

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, June 28, 2023

SALISBURY — For kids growing up, summer is a three-month vacation from school to do something that won’t be graded at the end of class. For a while, they can have unstructured moments of learning that they aren’t even aware of, because it’s just plain fun.

Salisbury Parks and Recreation organizes several summer camps that allow children to learn new activities, make friends, and play like it’s recess for a few hours. For one week, Parks and Recreation and the JF Hurley YMCA teamed up to put on a pickleball camp for local kids to find out firsthand why this sport has grown in such popularity.

Back in April, the parks department asked city council member David Post to run a pickleball camp. Post has been playing pickleball for years and has won multiple tournaments. When coming up with ideas, Post thought the YMCA would make the perfect location to host the camp. Besides having in-door facilities, the YMCA has had a desire to partner with Salisbury for these kind of special programs before.

“This is a great opportunity to have a collaboration with the Y and the city, which is something I know the Y has been wanting to do. They want to collaborate more with the city,” Post said. “I thought, I’m on the board of the Y and I’m on the board of the city. I thought this was a good opportunity to do something together.”

Post then reached out to his friends who play and teach pickleball to see if they would be interested in volunteering to be instructors for the camp. They had Zoom meetings and drew up plans to get an outline of how the camp would be. All told, Post said they got 17 volunteers to work three hours a day for five days in the middle of June.

“That’s amazing, that’s hard to do,” Post said.

Balls and rackets were either bought or donated to let the kids ages 8-15 test their skills on the court. On the first day of camp, they did an assessment to find out where each person stood in terms of ability.

One of the people that Post asked to volunteer was Doug Smith, who started playing pickleball back in 2015. For Smith, he thought the pickleball camp was very rewarding for the campers and what they took away from it.

“It was a process through the week, but we had great volunteers, had some good support…You could see a change everyday, the kids’ awareness of the game and their skill development. It was fun,” Smith said. “They love competing and they also love playing. That’s what we should encourage with that sport and any other sport — participation. They have a lifelong skill now, and it’s cross-generational. I love that I can play it with my grandchildren.”

Sharon MacKenzie taught physical education for over 30 years in Maryland and first heard about pickleball in 2000, but originally she “thought it was stupid.” After she retired, MacKenzie eventually found herself falling for the sport and began playing regularly. She met Post at a tournament and when he asked her if she would help with the camp, she jumped at the chance to teach again.

“It brought back a lot of memories. Kids nowadays are way different than the ones I taught 20 years ago and in some ways they’re not. I make up little stories. I told them, ‘These paddles, they belong to adults and they act badly sometimes and so you’re going to have to be really careful. You have to make them behave,'” MacKenzie said.

On the last day of the camp, there was a tournament for everyone to find out how much they picked up at the camp. Medals were handed out during an ice cream party celebration, great to cool things off in the heat.

Post is planning on having the pickleball camp again next summer and in the meantime, is trying to continue to have a morning for kids to play pickleball once a week at the YMCA.

The looks on the kids faces made the organizers and coaches realize the camp was a success. It didn’t matter how much of pickleball they actually grasped, watching their enthusiasm take shape is what is getting them ready for next year.

“It was exhilarating to see the excitement that the kids had. Wherever they were, whatever level they were, they were excited all day long,” MacKenzie said.