Pickleball makes its debut as a City College class

Nick Skvarna teaches pickleball at City College, a sport ‘everybody can play’
Stephan Davila Madrid, right, returns the pickleball to Nilo Ondevilla, left, on the other side of the net, Sept. 16, 2023. Photo by Sean Monney/City Times Media
Stephan Davila Madrid, right, returns the pickleball to Nilo Ondevilla, left, on the other side of the net, Sept. 16, 2023. Photo by Sean Monney/City Times Media
Sean Monney

Saturday mornings at the City College tennis courts are not calm and quiet. There are students there, yelling, laughing and grunting. And there’s the sound of plastic paddles hitting plastic balls.

“I love the sound,” said nursing student Katalin Papp. “Nobody likes it.”

That sound is the sound of pickleball, the newest sport to be introduced at City College, and Papp is a part of the first pickleball class introduced this fall semester.

Although played on a tennis court, pickleball only uses half of the court and the game is often played with doubles teams. The rules are designed to create more balance between the teams, and players take turns serving.

The pickleball class, held every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12:20 p.m., has a dozen students, many of whom have never played the sport before.

Papp herself had never even heard of pickleball until recently and, as a ping pong player, she was intrigued by the game. She signed up for the class out of curiosity and has since set her mind on taking the class in the spring and playing outside of school.

“It’s just fun. The last class, it was so much fun,” Papp said. “Three hours in the blazing sun is just gone by in a heartbeat.”

Papp also attributes her enjoyment of the class to the coach, Nick Skvarna, who she says is easygoing and patient.

Skvarna has been a professor at City College since 2000, teaching everything from kickboxing to yoga and coaching soccer and tennis. This is his first time teaching a pickleball class.

He describes pickleball as a blend of certain aspects of tennis, ping pong and badminton, but said pickleball is easier to learn than tennis because of lighter rackets and a smaller court size.

“It’s easier to pick up and it’s a lot more fun,” Skvarna said. “People enjoy it a lot more, you know, talking, laughter. There’s not so much etiquette like tennis.”

Art student Nilo Ondevilla, who is also enrolled in the pickleball class, reciprocated the idea and likes that the sport is so affordable and accessible.

“You don’t have to wear white shorts and white hat, you know, the tennis stigma, like a big expensive tennis court,” Ondevilla said. “No, you can put it in your backyard.”

Pickleball as a sport started in a backyard, where a group of friends and their kids lowered a badminton net and started experimenting with different rackets. The game was designed to be played anywhere and by anyone, and today it is still an accessible game for any age demographic.

Ondevilla, 58, believes the class has both physical and psychological benefits.

He said the sport provides cardio exercise while improving manual dexterity and coordination, and it requires focus and rhythm.

Ondevilla finds that the weekly class has improved his school life by providing physical activity.

“I realized I need something physical, and it’s something to release all that anger and stress,” he said. “So pickleball seems to be like the glue that holds my classes together.”

Pickleball is very popular right now, and according to a 2023 report by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, is the fastest-growing sport in America for the third year in a row, with a growth of 158% over the last three years. And neither Skvarna nor Ondevilla thinks its popularity is going to drop anytime soon.

Ondevilla plans to continue playing and hopes the pickleball program will grow to the point that students can compete against other schools.

“I think it’s gonna grow fast here,” Ondevilla said. “And I think City is paving the way … I don’t mind kicking ass elsewhere, wearing my City College shirt.”

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