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New Jersey Embraces Pickleball Craze With Biggest Club in Northeast

Like millions of other people, Becky and Frank Gabriele and Sharon and Bob Voelzke discovered a love for pickleball after the pandemic started.

The neighboring Yardley, Pennsylvania, couples played the mix of tennis, ping pong and badminton in their cul-de-sac in 2020. A makeshift court only required a net and tape. Soon enough, the retired empty-nesters were pickleballing every day. The quartet’s desire to play didn’t die down as winter approached, but indoor options were lacking. So the friends became business partners.

Luckily for us New Jerseyans, the Gabrieles and Voelzkes decided to open their Mercer Bucks Pickleball Club (MBPC) not in Pennsylvania, but over the Garden State border in Ewing. The 26,000-square-foot space, which opens February 15, is the Northeast’s largest pickleball facility. It boasts nine courts and hosts open play, rentals, tournaments, lessons and more.

“Pickleball is not and should not be an intimidating sport. It’s a very social sport that’s fun and gives you some fitness as well,” Becky says. “We wanted to create a community, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Traditionally thought of as a game for older folks, pickleball skyrocketed in popularity and its demographics skewed younger as people searched for active ways to socially distance during the pandemic. The Sports & Fitness Industry Association estimates 4.2 million Americans played in 2020, up 21.3 percent from 2019. MBPC immediately felt the demand, selling out 250 premier memberships before even opening.

“It was an ideal thing to pick up during these periods where we needed to be more cautious,” Becky says. Sharon, meanwhile, notes that pickleball’s “accessibility, affordability and the ease with which you can become relatively proficient” makes it a hit.

The sport is often taught in high school gym classes, but also has professional ranks. MBPC welcomes players of all skill levels. The goal is to simply have a good time.

“It may sound kind of hokey,” Sharon says, “but our tagline is, ‘Mercer Bucks Pickleball Club, where fun and fitness meet on the court.’”

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