Referred to earlier this year by NBC News as “the fastest-growing sport you’ve never heard of,” pickleball has taken Lincoln by storm. That’s not an exaggeration either. 175 pickleball players participated in the Cornhusker State games and the local club, Pickleball Lincoln, raised over $87,000 this summer in a single day.
For Pickleball Lincoln organizer Joel Houston and the rest of his cohorts, the explosion of popularity acted as a genesis point for the idea to host a weekend tournament for not just local pickleball fanatics, but professional players from around the country.
Thus the Turkey Shootout was born. Hosted on Saturday, Nov. 16 and Sunday, Nov. 17, the tournament brought in over 100 players from around the state and the region. The shootout included cash payouts to the first and second-place winners in the men’s, women’s and doubles’ divisions. Houston said this payout inclusion added legitimacy to the local scene and helped attract nationally ranked professionals, including Madison, Wisconsin-native KaSandra Gehrke.
“Pickleball is pretty big in Lincoln, and we felt it was finally time for a tournament like this to happen,” Houston said. “There’s not a lot of money in playing pickleball, so the pros that go around on the weekends and travel to tournaments jumped on this opportunity. It’s great to see them here and their matches have been awesome.”
While there might not be a ton of money in the sport right now, the nature of pickleball lends itself well to growth over time. Usually played in warm weather, the sport is a Frankenstein’s creature-style combination between tennis and ping pong with a wiffle ball thrown in for good measure. With a smaller court size, the sport demands fast reflexes from its players and it doesn’t take much for a rapid-fire volley series to develop in a match.
Houston said its quickness also lends an advantage to the sport’s growth, as it allows players to fit in multiple matches in a day and get more practice reps in. The low cost of entry and its lower injury rate also lends itself to older players looking to stay in shape while also not taking a tremendous toll on their bodies.
“Obviously that doesn’t stop those older folks from really going for it though,” Houston said. “It’s a fast-paced sport, and I think that’s what people really like about it.