Overhead image of multiple pickleball courts surrounded by green trees.
Cary Tennis Park, site of the 2024 Fanatics Sportsbook North Carolina Cup. PPA Tour

Success of UNC Club Pickleball highlights popularity of America's fastest-growing sport at college level

DALLAS, TX – I might be in the minority here, but I see pickleball taking off on college campuses across the country - not only at the amateur level, but at the elite level as well.

Pickleball could absolutely be one of the hottest sports in collegiate athletics, and University of North Carolina Club Pickleball is leading the charge. 

Club president Hunter Boyd shared some insight on the growth of collegiate pickleball in recent years.

“The pickleball club started in the fall of 2020 as an excuse for some friends to get together during COVID and have a reason to be outside and stay active. It began with just one friend group, and then the group brought more people in,” he explained. “I got to Carolina during the fall 2021 and it was still run by all the people that founded it. It was probably about 20 members.”

Soon after, the founders graduated and Boyd assumed a leadership role. 

“By then, pickleball just exploded. Now, our pickleball Group Me has over 600 people,” added Boyd.

Just let that sink in. That’s just one campus with over 600 people eager to play. Imagine what that number looks like when you add up all campuses nationwide. 

Given the tremendous interest in Chapel Hill, UNC Club Pickleball organizers decided to divide the group into a competition team and a non-competition team. 

But with 600 people, the fight to secure spots was fierce. 

“Our competitive team has tryouts, and we had roughly 300 people show up,” noted Boyd. 

With so many participants to assess, the team quickly came up with a unique evaluation strategy.

Collin Shick was on our team at the time. We looked at everyone through the lens of "Could this person be on the pickleball court with Collin and make it a relatively competitive game for him?” If yes, then they can make the team,” shared Boyd. 

There are currently about 30 people on the competitive team, including 10 women and 20 men. Their top three players are competing at the 5.0 level.  

After all, if they made the cut to play alongside a top pro, they’ve got to be pretty good. 

Boyd also discussed how Shick was recruited to join the squad. 

“Two years ago, Collin was just a former tennis player at NC State and I found him in a park just playing singles with a friend. At the time, we were trying to grow the club and get as many racket sports and athletes in general out there,” he said. “I went up to him and invited him to come to club practice. When he came out for the first time, we quickly realized that his hands were insane.”

Shick and the rest of the team’s success eventually led them to the DUPR College National Championships in 2023 where they took home first place. 

Shick has embarked on his pro career, of course, but he returns to campus to help judge the competition team tryouts.

During the inaugural Collegiate Club Pickleball Showcase at the Fanatics Sportsbook North Carolina Cup, it was fun to see the infectious team camaraderie on the court. Every single member cheered and celebrated their teammates courtside.

“A lot of us are friends off the court as well,” mentioned Boyd.

There's no denying that club pickleball is thriving in the Tar Heel State.

Will college pickleball be the next big thing? Let us know on Instagram and X (formerly Twitter).