Around Town

Arlington pickleball enthusiasts join inmates at second jail tournament

Inmates at the Arlington County Detention Facility picked up their paddles once again to compete in a pickleball tournament this week — and this time they had some additional friends.

The Pickleball Friends of Arlington joined the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office and Department of Parks and Recreation to host a sequel to last November’s jail pickleball tournament. The two-day competition started on Tuesday and ended yesterday with players on two winning teams receiving a $10 credit for their commissary accounts.

Sheriff’s office spokesperson Amy Meehan said the addition of the local pickleball group meant more people on deck to give lessons and keep score.

“We were lucky to be able to get volunteers from the ‘Pickleball Friends of Arlington’,” said Meehan. “We are grateful for the community involvement.”

Amid pickleball’s surge of popularity in Arlington and across the country, members of the Pickleball Friends of Arlington said they hope to foster a welcoming and involved community.

Member Heather Luca, who volunteered at the jail tournament, said her group provides feedback and insight on how to improve current courts and create new ones. Members advocate for their fellow players and weigh in on all manner of pickleball-related issues, from broken nets to sound mitigation.

Luca loves how welcoming the sport is, and not just at events like this week’s tournament. She said pickleball’s “drop-in culture” has opened the door to many new relationships.

“I have lots of other friends but these new friends of mine who I met through pickleball, who I wouldn’t have met otherwise, have showed up for me,” said Luca. “Anytime I’m feeling down, it’s like ‘Go out and play pickleball,’ and it just brings so much joy to me.”

Jimmy Brown, who founded the local group, likewise finds joy in meeting new people and activating his competitive drive.

“I love the people I play with but when I step on that court, I’m trying to beat them,” he said.

Coming from a background in high school sports and being the son of a former NFL player, Brown has always loved competing. He said that he discovered pickleball while on vacation a few years ago and was so fascinated with the fast-paced sport that he bought a paddle and went to Walter Reed Community Center to compete.

“I got my butt whooped, which was awesome,” said Brown.

Brown said defeats pushed him to engage in the game even more. Years later Brown and a few of his friends decided to start the Arlington Iron Paddles (AIP), a competitive pickleball group, in 2023 for other players who want to improve.

“It’s that camaraderie of being on a team and all pushing each other,” said Brown.

AIP trains players to compete at any level through clinics and tournaments. Browns hopes more people continue to get involved in the growing Arlington pickleball scene.

“We want to take the love of the game that we have and expand it to the whole community,” he said.