Pro pickleball tournament kicks off in College Park

Pickleball professionals are in the DMV for the first time as the mid-Atlantic’s first professional pickleball tournament, the "N2grate DC Open," kicks off Thursday at the Junior Tennis Championship Center in College Park, MD. 

Pickleball is America's fastest-growing sport, according to a 2022 report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association

Chances are pretty good you or someone you know has picked it up and probably loves it.

"I like it because I can get some exercise," said John Kalafat from Morgantown, WV. 

John and his wife Frankie Kalafat drove three hours and 17 minutes from Morgantown to College Park to be at the JTCC, and they plan to stay for three full days. 

Anna Miller and her husband are from Virginia Beach, among the 800 total competitors, and will play in one of the tournament’s lower-level brackets.

"On TV it’s fast, but in person, I mean, it’s unbelievable. Backhands, the women especially, I think it’s awesome," said Miller. 

It’s just a small plastic ball, a small court and a short net. But it’s generating big excitement in College Park.

"It’s easy to pick up, and you can do it, really, any time," said M.J. Marrero, 10. 

Lisa Venable is a fan from Rockville, MD, who wanted to take a picture with professional pickleball player Jessie Irvine after talking to FOX 5. 

"It’s awesome, because the professionals, they’re very down to earth," said Venable. 

"All people can play. It’s very social, it’s easy to learn, and it’s just a lot of fun," said Irvine. 

The SFIA estimates there are nearly 40 percent more players this year than last year. But with big names like Lebron James and Tom Brady who have announced investments into team pickleball leagues, the number of pickleball players could explode even more. 

This tournament is particularly special for Montgomery County native Ben Johns, who is currently the top pickleball player in the world. 

"It's as close to home as we're going to get, and I went to school right up the road," said Johns, a University of Maryland graduate. "I love it."