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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Dinks at Dartmouth: The Growing Pickleball Culture

Casual and avid student pickleballers alike reflect on the growth of the game at Dartmouth.


With the match tied 8-8-2, mayhem broke loose. A well-placed return led to a tough dig. The ball popped into the air, high enough that a slam was inevitable. A paddle struck the ball with an undeniable velocity —  but it was all for naught. 

“You see that?” 

Andrew Xu ’25 shouted, watching as his masterfully placed between-the-legs dink skidded through across the court, away from opposing paddles. The pickleball courts behind Alumni Gym had never seen such a beautiful, winning shot. 

Pickleball, the racquet sport played on a mini tennis court with plastic paddles and a ball similar to a wiffle ball, is the fastest growing sport in America. With rules similar to tennis, teams of two compete against each other in games to 11, alternating between ground strokes, volleys, slams and dinks: soft shots that land just beyond the net. Whether you have a love or distaste for the sport, pickleball is unquestionably booming in popularity at Dartmouth, boasting a robust and energetic intramural league in its inaugural year. Much of the credit for bringing pickleball to Dartmouth, however, resides with Rory Doyle ’25 and Harrison Stropkay ’25, who were proactive in convincing Dartmouth to put in courts in April 2022.

Doyle recounted the steps he took to get Dartmouth on the pickleball bandwagon. 

“We first tried to make it a club, like the other club sports, but we were told that Dartmouth can’t give funding because we’d have to have competition at other schools,” Doyle said. “But that seems like a great idea for the future.” 

When asked about the chance of interscholastic pickleball ever becoming a reality, Doyle responded optimistically, noting that “relatively similar [pickleball cultures] exist in a lot of other comparable schools in the northeast.”  

Avid pickleball enthusiast Jacob Schnell ’26 shared his thoughts on the game, or rather the “lifestyle.”

“Pickle is a fun way to stay active,” Schnell said. “My glory days of tennis are over — for a lot of older picklers as well — and pickleball is a nice way to stay active and get some light-hearted social interaction.”

To play at Dartmouth, all you need to do is show up to the courts and hope that there is some space available, as the College lends the equipment to students for free. The accessibility of pickleball on campus has prompted many students to utilize the sport as a fun way to connect with friends while working up a sweat. Natalie Vann ’25 said she has bonded with many other students over a friendly game of pickleball, despite never having met each other before.

“[It’s] a way to get to know one another without the overarching ‘let’s sit down and have a conversation,’” she said. “We’re just bonding over a fun little game.”

Alternatives to pickleball, such as tennis, prove to be less beginner friendly, making pickleball a popular choice among students, Vann added. 

“Pickleball is really accessible for a lot of people because it’s not as hard as tennis,” she explained. “It’s a lot easier to get adequate at pickleball really quickly than it is for people who’ve never picked up a tennis racket. It’s opened up the idea of a fun, recreational game that lots of people can participate in.”

From former tennis players to celebrities like Lebron James and the comedic sports group, Dude Perfect, the Professional Pickleball Association boasts a wide variety of athletes and investors in the various teams, highlighting the growth of the sport. While pickleball players like Schnell may come from humble beginnings, Schnell says he confidently believes he can beat the majority of regular pickle athletes.

“During COVID, pickleball saw a big spike in popularity, [which was] when I started playing with my family,” Schnell said. “A lot of these people don’t have the stamina to play a long game of pickleball, so we are going to tire them out. They say this is an ‘old people’ game, but I don’t buy into that.” 

Apart from the sport’s athletic appeal, Doyle also expressed his appreciation for the social aspect of the game and the accessible nature of the sport, as he has experienced pickleball’s addictive effect firsthand. He adamantly encouraged all Dartmouth students to give it a try.

“My friend had a tennis court, and he didn’t play tennis, and so he played pickleball instead,” Doyle said. “So I would go over and play with him. I kind of got into it. I definitely caught the bug.” 

No matter the time of day, Dartmouth’s courts boast a variety of pickleballers, from casual picklers who enjoy the easy exercise and sun to intense athletes seeking victory at any cost. Regardless of his team’s difference in commitment to competition, Schnell has high hopes for the intramural season.

“We will probably have to buy a trophy soon for when we win,” Schnell said. “I don’t think anyone on our team can actually go to the time that our games are at, but we will make it work for the playoffs.”

With so many newcomers of all skillsets, the future seems bright for Dartmouth intramural pickleball athletes.