America’s New Favorite Sport

By Randy Ruef

Tell Bill Cote that pickleball is just tennis for old people, and he shakes his head and chuckles.

“I have a group of 55 people I play with,” says Cote, the general manager for Victory Pickleball, 7003 N. Alpine Road, in Loves Park, Ill. “I call them my family because we not only play pickleball, but we also hang out outside the game. And there is a 16-year-old and a 70-year-old in that group.”

In 2023, pickleball – a hybrid of tennis, badminton and table tennis – was named America’s fastest-growing sport for the third straight year, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s Topline Participation Report. That same report says that 36.5 million people have played pickleball at least once in the past year.

That growth inspired Tim Ancona, the former tennis coach at Rockford Christian High School, to purchase the former Victory Tennis Center and convert it into a pickleball-only facility. Victory Pickleball opened last September, and with 16 courts, it’s now the largest venue in the state.

“It’s a low-impact sport,” says Tiffany Miller, Victory’s marketing manager. “You’re rarely going to get hurt.”

For those who are just dipping their toe into the sport, Cote recommends starting out with an intro to pickleball class.

“We’ll give you a 90-minute class for $10,” he says. “Not only do you get great instruction from a pro, but we’ll also give you a tour of the facility and explain all of the amenities.”

Victory offers two types of memberships: Bronze, which is free, and Gold, which has monthly fees for individuals, couples and families that include discounts and perks. Both Bronze and Gold members can reserve a court online and through Victory’s smartphone app.

“That way, you can just walk in and play,” says Miller. Victory has equipment you can rent for $5 per day, but of course you can always bring your own.

Victory isn’t limited only to pickleball. There are dedicated places to play bags, table tennis and darts. The Kitchen Tap Wall and Grill on site offers good eats and a variety of brews.

“We want people to look at this as their third place,” Cote says. “Your first place is home, your second place is work, and your third place is hopefully here.”