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Tanners Team Sports Helping Pickleball Mania Sweep the Nation

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If you haven’t tried pickleball by now, you’re missing out on the fastest-growing sport in the United States and Arkansas. Pickleball is a light-hearted paddle sport played on a pickleball court, although a tennis court will do in a pinch. The rules are simple, the game is social, and it’s enjoyable for all ages. All you need to play is a paddle, a pickleball, and some friends or family members ready to have fun and exercise.

According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s Topline Participation Report 2023, participation in pickleball grew 171.1% in just four years. It took the top spot in the 25 fastest-growing sports category, obliterating second place Alpine Touring (115% growth), number three Winter Fat Biking at (69.4%) and number four Off-Course Golf (67.5%). Pickleball was far ahead of growing participation in traditional sports like tennis and soccer. Vince Signorelli, former owner of Tanners Team Sports and current vice-president of Smith’s Sporting Group, discovered pickleball was a fun sport and a true opportunity for his Arkansas business.

Photo: The Turquoise Table via Flickr

Tanners Team Sports was founded in 1991 in Virginia and focused on sporting goods accessories. The company’s headquarters moved to Hot Springs, where they create accessories for baseball, softball, tennis and now pickleball. If you’ve ever purchased any Rawlings-related accessories for the baseball or softball player in your life, they were likely made by Tanners. In 30 years of business, the company succeeded by focusing on the smaller items that keep the game going instead of basic items like baseball gloves. Many of these items are carried in stores like Academy Sports and Wal-Mart.

Then, in 2016, Signorelli played pickleball for the first time after seeing people playing at the local YMCA in Hot Springs. He started playing early morning games and enjoyed it so much that he became fascinated with the pickleball industry. Tanners Team Sports launched their in-house Vulcan brand products with an eye toward the pickleball market. Signorelli noticed most brands were simply producing pickleball paddles, not accessories. He knew Tanners could excel in this space for the rapidly growing pickleball audience. Vulcan now sells an entire line of pickleball products, including paddles, of course, but also pickleball nets, bags, grips and clothing.

Photo: Vulcan Pickleball Park at Tanner Team Sports Headquarters | Hot Springs

In fact, the pickleball business even prompted another in-house brand at Tanners, Paddle Candy. Paddle Candy creates pickleball paddles under their mantra to “boldly color outside the lines.” The result is a collection of colorful, unique paddles for those who want more expression on the pickleball court. Vulcan has become a top brand in pickleball, but Signorelli didn’t stop at brand creation. Vulcan now sponsors a handful of pro players. Pickleball has indeed grown up. The Professional Pickleball Association holds tournaments all year and keeps a world top-ranking list of men’s and women’s single, double and mixed top players. Vulcan was the title sponsor for the 2023 indoor championships held in Lakeville, Minnesota in February.

You don’t have to leave the state to enjoy a game of pickleball, though. Pickleheads is an online community that connects pickleball players locally and also maintains an updated list of pickleball courts. Pickleheads currently list 101 public pickleball courts in Arkansas. One of those courts is Vulcan Pickleball Park at Vulcan’s (and Tanners Team Sports) headquarters in Hot Springs. The park features four lighted pickleball courts that are free to use. The park often hosts clinics, tournaments, lessons and pro exhibitions.

Vulcan and Paddle Candy are just two successful brands and ventures from the previously successful Tanners Team Sports. Another Arkansas brand, Smith’s Sporting Group, also headquartered in Hot Springs, acquired Tanners Team Sports earlier this year. The acquisition joins two successful Arkansas sporting goods brands with the potential for new growth. Vignorelli moved to a vice-president position, but the Vulcan and Paddle Candy brands remain and continue to grow, just as pickleball continues to draw more players to its courts in Arkansas.

Photo: Stephen Rahn via Flickr

Find out more about pickleball near you:
Vulcan Pickleball Park – Hot Springs
Central Arkansas Pickleball – Facebook
Pickleball Program – Bentonville
Pickleball at The Jones Center – Springdale
Mountain Home Youth Center Pickleball – Mountain Home
Cabot Parks & Rec Pickleball – Cabot
Ozark Pickleball Exchange – Northwest Arkansas
Berryhill Park – Searcy
Pickleheads – List of courts in Arkansas

If you don’t see a place to play near you, check with your local Parks & Recreation department. They can likely guide you to a pickleball court, lesson, or team in Arkansas.

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Kimberly S. Mitchell loves journeys, real or imagined. She has hiked the Inca Trail, walked into Panama on a rickety wooden bridge and once missed the last train of the night in Paris and walked several miles home (with friends). She believes magic can be found in life and books, loves to watch the stars appear, and still dreams of backpacking the world. Now she writes adventures to send her characters on journeys, too. Pen & Quin: International Agents of Intrigue - The Mystery of the Painted Book is her debut novel. Find out more at KSMitchell.com.

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