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Pickleball thriving, courts expanding at Hillsborough Community College

It’s madness. It’s wacky. It’s fun-filled nights of pickleball at Hillsborough Community College.

Enthusiasts of the increasingly popular sport that seems to be sweeping the nation come out in droves to the college’s tennis center off Dale Mabry Boulevard. Monday Madness and Wednesday Wackiness, organized by the Tampa Pickleball Meeting Group, are the themes on those evenings.

There are plenty of spectators, most of whom await their turns to play, at the HCC courts.

“You basically show up and everybody gets a chance to play,” said Chris Nyholm, director of tennis and pickleball.

While Nyholm estimated that 60 or more players have shown up on those nights, there are many more opportunities at the HCC campus in Tampa. What started as eight pickleball courts around the time of the coronavirus pandemic has since expanded to 11 with a target of 15 by the end of the year.

“We saw how popularit was and said we need tohave more,” Nyholm said. “I’m not sure (15) will be enough.”

Added Tyson Middleton, an instructor for tennis and pickleball at HCC, “It’s just ballooned. It’s crazy. Everybody in pickleball feels it’s their job to grow the sport.”


Middleton and Nyholm give group and individual lessons. Among other programs available at the courts are reserved play — “A lot of members love that because they can guarantee

their court time,” Nyholm said — play for singles and doubles, clinics and even cardio pickleball.


“It’s almost like a Zumba class, but only for pickleball,” Middleton said.

In the shadows of Raymond James Stadium, pickleball players fill the courts at Hillsborough Community College.

In all, Nyholm estimated 600 members of the tennis center with roughly half playing pickleball. Nyholm figured it’s about 50-50 on players over-40 or under-40. Noting the turnout of players in their 20s and some even younger, he said, “It’s just a matter of time before it gets into high school.”


Nyholm, 31, and the 47-year-old Middleton grew up playing lots of tennis. Like so many tennis players, they now play pickleball as well.

The HCC courts are filled with players and spectators at night.

Nyholm has played tennis since the age of 9, played at Hernando High (Class of 2010) and began coaching that sport at 15. Now, whether it is tennis or pickleball, “I like being able

to help (players) out.”


Middleton’s parents were in the military so he played youth tennis mostly in California and Missouri. He enjoys tennis and pickleball, noting that while there are similarities in the

sport some adjustments must be made.


“The big thing for me was learning the softer side of hitting the ball,” he said, adding that with picklball, “there’s a fun factor. There’s people laughing and bantering.”

Four-time Super Bowl champion Rob Gronkowski (three with the New England Patriots and another with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and his brother Chris got together with a few staff members after playing pickleball at the HCC courts.


By Steve Lee Times Total Media Correspondent Photos courtesy of Hillsborough Community College

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