Relishing Pickleball: Pickleball Comes to U.S. Universities

David Zapatka

Pickleball continues to grow in popularity around the country. It’s now making its way into U.S. universities. The leading example of this is my friend, Jarrod Smith, coach of Drury University’s men’s and women’s tennis teams, and in 2024, coach of Drury’s co-ed pickleball team in Springfield, Mo.

In August, Drury announced the construction of an outdoor recreation area, the Panther Pad, that will feature six pickleball courts. The facility, which is one of the first official pickleball courts on a college campus, was designed for intercollegiate competition and will be completed in the spring of 2024.

“With the addition of pickleball, we are not only expanding our sports offerings but enhancing the overall campus experience,” said Drury President John Beuerlein. “This exciting addition reaffirms Drury’s dedication to providing diverse opportunities for our students, fostering a vibrant campus life and a robust sense of community.”

“I am absolutely elated to be leading a new program at the place I have called home for the past two decades,” said Smith. “We are passionate about the future of the sport and growing it, not only at Drury but everywhere amongst collegiate institutions.”

“I want to thank Jarrod Smith for embracing this new role with enthusiasm and dedication. We are incredibly fortunate to have one of the nation’s top instructors and advocates for this sport on our campus,” said Drury Vice President and Director of Athletics, Nyla Milleson.

“We are the first college program in the country to have a full-time coaching staff, an operational budget, and offer scholarships,” Smith pointed out. “The first to put that whole package together.”

Drury student Andrew Martinez said, “I’ve been playing for a year-and-a-half now and enjoyed the social opportunities,” he said. “Just seeing how you’re able to connect with other people and how gorgeous the community is that the sport creates, is a wonderful thing. My main sport had been soccer, but I loved the paddle-hand combo.”

Alma Abazi is a Drury senior who plays for the women’s tennis team but also plays pickleball on occasion, says this, “The biggest difference to me is the racquet size,” she pointed out. “I struggle with that and airball a lot of my swings sometimes because I think my racquet is longer than it is. But I understand the popularity of pickleball because it’s a very social sport. It’s easier to learn than tennis.”

“I think pickleball is an amazing segue out of the home and back into the outdoors again,” Smith said. “And I think there’s such a focus on technology these days that we’re all guilty of spending too much time on our electronics. This gives you a chance to get back outside and socialize with your friends.”

Have a question about pickleball? Want to know more about the sport, the rules, or equipment, or have some pickilicious news you would like to share with our pickleball community? Email David Zapatka at [email protected].