Martin Herman’s love for a unique game inspired him to start a league for local enthusiasts. written by Melanie Crownover photographed by Joe Worthem
hen pickleball enthusiast Martin Herman moved to Tupelo from Florida in January 2015, he couldn’t find anyone to join him in playing his favorite sport. “It’s such a popular thing there that I was kind of surprised that no one had heard of it here,” he said. “Imagine a sport between PingPong and tennis with square paddles the size of a saucer and balls like reinforced Wiffle balls. Then take it to a badminton court. It sounds strange, but if you try [pickleball] once, you’ll probably be back.” Pickleball began in the 1960s during one family’s Washington vacation, when adults gathered a hodgepodge of equipment to entertain their children at a badminton court. Contrary to popular belief, the sport’s name has nothing to do with the shape of the ball in play. Instead, the moniker came when the originator’s wife compared the combination of sports in pickleball to a pickle boat, a vessel in the sport of rowing whose crew is composed of oarsmen chosen from leftovers of the other boats. Pickleball’s popularity has grown since the USA Pickleball Association started in 2005, moving from its American origins in the Northwest to the West and East Coasts and then spreading inward. Overseas acclaim followed as the International Federation of Pickleball began in 2015. Tournament play is available as close as Memphis or Birmingham, and other northeast Mississippi cities, including Oxford and Columbus, have active pickleball communities. Herman began a Meetup group online to invite people to try the game out in the Tupelo area, and his first pickleball recruit was coincidentally another Florida transplant.
14 INVITATION TUPELO | February 2018