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Sunday, May 26, 2024

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Avalon Police Play America’s Fastest-growing Sport

Police and Pickleball was the first event of its kind in Cape May County. Avalon’s Police Chief Jeff Christopher

By Collin Hall

AVALON – Members of the Avalon Police Department dove, jumped and scrambled to hit perforated plastic balls on a breezy October day as the Avalon pickleball community joined them for a Police and Pickleball event. 
Police Chief Jeff Christopher, racket in hand, said that the event, the first of its kind in Cape May County, was hugely successful; it gave him a chance to meet Avalon locals who he has never spoken to in his decades of service. 
“I’ve been working here for 22 years and it’s the first time I’m meeting some of these people,” Christopher said. “The idea was to get the community together; this is a great opportunity to get to know people on a personal level and to have a little fun.” 
Christopher said that he has become something of a pickleball fan over the past two months. He has played five times since he first learned to play this fall and said that he joins other members of the department for the occasional match. 
“I’m hooked,” he said.
‘Hooked’ was the theme of the afternoon, and the theme of pickleball in Avalon over the past year. The Sports and Fitness Industry Association named pickleball the fastest-growing sport in America in a 2022 report. Tracie Holmes, who helped organize “Pickleball and Police,” said that Avalon pickleball players skyrocketed in number from 450 people to 1,050 people between the summers of 2021 and 2022. 
“On a nice summer day, we’ll have a hundred people here on the courts,” Holmes said. “We have people who play every single day in the off-season too.” 
The game has proven so popular that the tennis courts adjacent to Avalon’s 8th Street pickleball courts will soon be replaced with even more pickleball courts. 
Holmes attributes pickleball’s popularity to a few things: the low cost of entry, the ease with which the game can be learned, the game’s high skill ceiling and the game’s small physical footprint. 
“You can fit ten pickleball courts where you can fit just three tennis courts,” she said. Though tennis will move elsewhere in Avalon, pickleball has an ever-growing footprint on 7-Mile island. 
Holmes calls Avalon home, but she organizes pickleball events all over the county. She hosts a pickleball group in Middle Township and hopes to soon host free classes and games at the Lower Township Recreation Center. 
Attendance at Police and Pickleball was strong despite high winds and a prior cancellation. Steve Kelner, who Holmes called “one of the best players here,” said that he came out to show support for the local police department. “We have a great small-town police presence here,” he said. Kelner has lived in Avalon since 2017; he moved from Mullica Hill after deciding he does not need two houses. 
Renee Gudleski came all the way from West Wildwood to participate in the event. “These guys are great,” she said of the police. “I’ve been playing since March. I went to a clinic and got hooked like so many other people.” 
As Police and Pickleball wrapped up for the day, Holmes said that she and the Avalon police chief hope that a county-wide police pickleball cup can happen soon. 
Are you “hooked?” Do you have a hot scoop on pickleball? Email the author at chall@cmcherald.com. 

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