When Michael and Loretta Beckner moved to Aiken from Virginia in 2010, they were surprised that no one in the community had ever played, or even heard of, pickleball.

"When we learned that not only was there no pickleball in Aiken, but that no one had ever heard of it, Loretta announced that we obviously could not stay here and would have to move,” Michael said. "I agreed but suggested that before we packed up again, we approach the (City of Aiken) Parks, Recreation and Tourism (Department) to ask if they would consider starting a program.”

The department set up a public demonstration for the Beckners at the H. Odell Weeks Activities Center. Over 90 people showed up to watch them practice pickleball. The Aiken Pickledillys were formed not long after, and they play competitively with other pickleball teams from throughout the CSRA.

The Beckners first became “hooked” on pickleball when Loretta, a tennis player, had to undergo shoulder surgery. The Beckners found pickleball to be a competitive sport that was easy on the body.

"Pickleball is a sport for everyone,” Michael said. "It has proven to be of tremendous value to those people who were either not very strong in other sports or who thought they were no longer competitive, to be introduced to pickleball. The number of people who have credited pickleball with getting them off their couches and out having fun again is almost overwhelming.”

Pickleball clinics have increased in number over the past 10 years. The sport is especially popular with seniors, although it can be played competitively by all age groups.

The sport was first invented in 1965 by the Pritchard, Bell and McCallum families on Bainbridge Island in Washington, according to the U.S. Pickleball Association. One theory about the sport's name is that it came from the McCallum's dog, Pickles, who would always try to run away with the ball.

In 2013, with the City of Aiken’s support, the Pickledillys held their first tournament in Aiken. Around 180 players from 10 states participated.

Pickleball has grown exponentially in Aiken since then. There are now around 250 regular players in Aiken and eight pickleball courts at Virginia Acres Park and Eustis Park. Pickleball lines have also been drawn on local tennis courts, and regular games are held on indoor courts at Odell Weeks. Annual tournaments are still held at Odell Weeks every September.

The City of Aiken is launching two new pickleball offerings this summer. A youth pickleball program will be held for ages 10-16 starting June 18. This program will run Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon at Eustis Park, 1001 Edgefield Ave. N.W. The cost is $5 for city residents and $8 for non-city residents. This program is ideal for beginner-level players.

A pickleball dance workout program for ages 18 and older will also be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at Eustis Park. The cost is $10 for city residents and $12 for non-city residents.

These will be the first pickleball classes held at Eustis Park.

For more information about the city's pickleball programs, call 803-643-2181. For more information about the Aiken Pickledillys, visit aikenpickleball.com.

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.