Could pickleball become a high school sport?

The pickleball craze hasn’t hit the high schools … yet.

Is it coming? Don’t hold your breath.

While pickleball continues to grow at a remarkable rate — you can’t blink without another private or public facility being opened around here — it remains a sport mainly for the older crowd.

Some folks are trying to change that, though. SureShot Pickleball in Naperville is organizing what’s being billed as the inaugural “Illinois High School State Championship” on June 27-28.

Now before you start asking questions about your own high school’s participation, be aware this has no connection with the Illinois High School Association.

Reached this week, IHSA Assistant Executive Director Matt Troha said no state schools have registered a pickleball team on the organization’s Emerging Sport list. (For anyone interested in doing so, registration can be completed on the IHSA website.

Because the announcement was made just this week, SureShot Pickleball owner Tim Kelly said it’s too early to gauge the interest level for the high school tournament. But based on the general growth of the sport, there could be a decent crowd.

Single-elimination tournaments for boys doubles, girls doubles and mixed doubles are slated for late June, with medals earned for the top three finishers and a “special award” for the state champions. High schoolers can register at the SureShot website.

We’ll see what kind of numbers the tournament draws. I firmly believe there’s a sport out there for every teenager, and pickleball may find a niche.

But reaching the level of an IHSA sport is a big ask. Just about any school can compete indoors or outdoors, but the lack of schools registering on the emerging sport list means it’s nowhere close to becoming sanctioned.

For perspective, here’s a list of some of the emerging sports on the IHSA list: boys and girls archery, boys and girls 16-inch softball, boys and girls rugby and, with a surprisingly high number of schools, trap shooting.

None of those sports are anywhere near the threshold of schools necessary to become an official IHSA sport. Ten percent of IHSA schools must participate to be considered for sanctioning, which equates to about 80 statewide.

Girls flag football, girls wrestling and boys and girls lacrosse most recently became IHSA-sanctioned sports. On the down side, this year boys gymnastics was relegated to an emerging sport because of dwindling participation.

While the IHSA already sanctions dozens of sports and activities, the window never closes. If interest is there, the IHSA will be a willing partner.

Again, pickleball would be relatively easy to integrate into a school’s facilities. Maybe put it in the winter away from tennis and badminton. It’s a far cry from ice hockey, which is popular among high schoolers but remains distant from the IHSA landscape because of the necessary overhead to compete.

If the SureShot event is a success, maybe some momentum will build toward IHSA pickleball. If not, I’m sure local organizers will keep trying to tap into the high school market.

Girls flag football was nowhere on the radar just a few years ago. Maybe pickleball will see its day as well.

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