Players engage in pickleball on East Campus

Crazie for Pickleball at Duke

Campus community members are part of the sport’s huge popularity

That unlocked her competitive spirit as a former 6-foot-1 forward for the Duke women’s basketball team between 1996 and 2000. Now, Rice plays pickleball as many times per week as she can in the Triangle, and in March, she entered her first pickleball tournament in Durham.

Lauren Rice keeps her eye on the ball during a recent pickleball tournament in Durham. Photo courtesy of Donna Kendall.

“I tried to do golf, and golf takes so much time and patience,” said Rice, regional director of development for the Duke Law School who has worked at Duke since 2006. “Pickleball does too if you want to be really good, but it also was something I picked up a lot quicker.”

Created on Bainbridge Island, Washington in 1965, pickleball has become the fastest growing sport in the country. In 2022, approximately 36.5 million Americans played the sport at least once, according to a recent poll from the Association of Pickleball Professionals. Of those who played, nearly half said they plan to play more often in 2023.

With quick games of 11 to 15 played with a perforated plastic ball, paddles and a net, the sport, which celebrates National Pickleball Month in April, can be picked up easily, making it an approachable fitness activity with key benefits for a wide range of players, from children to senior adults.

The Duke community has joined the pickleball craze with a P.E. activity credit course added to the student curriculum in Duke’s Department of Recreation and Physical Education, as well as the arrival of the student Duke Club Pickleball, now an official USA Pickleball group on campus.

“It’s a great way to get out and move no matter what someone’s fitness level is,” said Janis Hampton, professor of the Practice of Physical Education at Duke and a Professional Pickleball Registry certified instructor.  “Getting to a higher level takes work, but just about everyone can play it at some level because it’s such an easy sport to learn.”

Janis Hampton fell in love with pickleball and has been on the forefront of its growth at Duke. Photo by Jack Frederick.

Hampton has been on the forefront of raising pickleball’s popularity at Duke. In 2021, after getting into pickleball herself, she wrote a proposal and got approved to add the pickleball activity class to Duke’s P.E. curriculum. In the spring of 2022, with Hampton as its faculty advisor, students created the Duke Club Pickleball.

Last summer, Duke Recreation & Physical Education re-lined some tennis courts on East Campus to create six dedicated pickleball courts that are open to those with memberships. On Saturday mornings, the campus courts are packed with students and staff engaged in friendly competition.

Through pickleball, Rice, the regional director of development for the Duke Law School, has met colleagues at Duke University Hospital, Undergraduate Admissions and the Nasher Museum of Art.  Among them is Clifford Chu, a left-handed player and application analyst with Duke Health Technology Solutions.

“It brings a lot of people together from a variety of backgrounds, that’s for sure,” Rice said. “People that I never would have ever likely met.”

Clifford Chu has won tournaments across the country. Photo courtesy of Clifford Chu.

Through playing pickleball in the Triangle area, Rice met Clifford Chu, a left-handed player and application analyst with Duke Health Technology Solutions.

With eight years of experience and three company sponsorships, Chu has played in tournaments across the country, from Florida to California. He’s earned a 4.5 USA Pickleball Tournament Player Ranking; professional ratings start at 5.0.

After winning the world Pickleball Tour tournament in Daytona, Florida, in January, Chu qualified for the World Pickleball Tour with a $175,000 purse tournament in Daytona, Florida, in 2024.

While an experienced player, Chu said he has more fun teaching the game to others. As a fully remote staff member, Chu teaches youth and adult pickleball classes in Holly Springs and Apex on evenings.

“That’s one of the gratifications of being in pickleball,” Chu said. “I get to share my knowledge with others.”

Interested in playing pickleball?

Janis Hampton, left, plays pickleball with some of her Duke students between classes on East Campus. Photo by Jack Frederick.

Members of Duke Recreation and Physical Education can play anytime on the East Campus courts with no reservation required, except when already in use for classes or other campus group reservations. Staff and faculty can purchase a membership through the Duke Fitness Club.

In addition, members of the Duke Faculty Club can sign up for paid private and group lessons geared toward players from beginner to experienced levels. The Duke Faculty Club is open to all full-time employees of Duke University and Duke University Health System to purchase memberships.

Other options in the Durham area includes play at the various parks and courts available through Durham Parks & Recreation. People can play at those parks on a first-come, first-serve basis during scheduled hours.  DPR also offers free or low-cost pickleball clinics, mixers, leagues, and tournaments.

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