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A local pickleball group wants to become a really big dill

Iron Paddles members at the Walter Reed Community Center courts (photo courtesy of Jimmy Brown)

An Arlington-based group wants to “take over pickleball nation” and become the sport’s most talked-about organization within three years.

The Iron Paddles Pickleball Club is a 115-person-strong organization that sets up tournaments, clinics, and league play throughout the region. The club is locally-based but calls the courts at Walter Reed Community Center home.

The aim is higher than just Arlington or the D.C. area, co-founder Jimmy Brown told ARLnow.

“We are trying to take over pickleball nation, not just here,” Brown said. “When people think of pickleball, we want to be the first organization that comes to mind. From clinics to unique events… to pop-up tournaments to individual lessons, we want to be the brand that people think about three years from now when they think about pickleball in this country.”

Brown said about 80% of the current members are from Arlington or Alexandria, though there are members from Woodbridge, D.C., and Maryland.

Iron Paddles launched about two and half years ago at the height of the pandemic, when a smaller group was playing pickleball “really early in the morning” at Walter Reed, per Brown. They’d play so often and get so competitive that several regular players considered going pro.

“A lot of us… are pretty good players [now] and are trying to eventually get where they can eventually make some money in this sport,” Brown said.

That includes Brown, who lives in the Claremont neighborhood near Wakefield High School. He’s the son of former NFL football player Tom Brown, who played for the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s and won multiple Super Bowls. The younger Brown plans to join the senior pickleball tour in five years, when he turns 50.

“[My dad] always said, ‘If you play better competition, it’s going to make you better.’ So, I surround myself with better players than myself… who kick my butt every day,” Brown said.

He’s a school teacher, so he plays early in the morning — particularly in the summers when school is out — and in the afternoon after school is dismissed. He and 15 or 20 other Iron Paddle members can often be found playing into the evening at Walter Reed.

Brown admits he was one of those people who was playing at the community center courts at 6 a.m. last summer. The noise from the courts, mainly the infamous “pickleball pop,” led to some neighbors threatening legal action late last year.

He says he “completely understands” if some people got mad about being woken up to the thucks and pops of pickleball. The group has since moved to other courts for their early morning ritual, though he wouldn’t say exactly where.

Once the clock strikes 8 a.m., however, residents have to deal with the noise, Brown said.

“You chose to live by a rec center. After 8 a.m., it’s free reign. I’m sorry,” he said. “Turn the TV up a bit louder and shut your windows. I’m sorry. I know that sounds harsh, but people are trying to work out.”

As for the accusations of bullying children earlier this year, Brown said that is not true. Whenever kids have wanted to come to play basketball or tennis, the pickleballers he knows are “accommodating” and sometimes move the nets so they can play.

“If it’s super packed, now that’s a different story,” he said. “But nobody’s ever been belligerent and nobody’s ever been nasty.”

People often go to different courts since there are so many tennis and basketball courts in the county, but there are “far very few places in Arlington County to play pickleball… that’s why it’s so packed there,” Brown said. He strongly supports adding more courts to Walter Reed Community Center.

The hope is that Iron Paddles builds upon the enthusiasm and commitment local players have shown for the sport in recent years. Brown said a number of its clinics, lessons, and tournaments are at capacity.

The organization is also next month hosting two of the top pickleball players in the world, Anna Bright and Brooke Buckner, for a series of matches against several members of Iron Paddles. It’s set to take place at D.C.’s East Potomac Tennis Center on May 14. Winners get $3,500 per win.

The assumption is that the pros will win every match, Brown said, but the hope is that it brings in a huge local crowd and “word of mouth spreads” so that more pros come to take on members of this Arlington-based pickleball organization.

“We want the pros [to say] that these guys are a legit organization, they do a great job, and take care of you,” Brown said. “And we will pack the place.”

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