Pickleball brings the joy for faculty & staff

Members of the Asian Faculty & Staff Association are finding fun, connection through sport

By Pamela Gorsuch on May 12, 2024

Staff before pickleball match
Regular pickleball matches give Cristina Packard, Kari Schumm and other AFSA members a dose of joy, community and exercise. (Alexander Wright | Towson University)

It’s a Thursday in Burdick, and it’s not clear which noise is louder—the thud of pickleballs or the bursts of chatter after each shot.
“Great serve!”
“Look at that spin!”
“Woah—nice shot!”
Every week, members of the Asian Faculty & Staff Association (AFSA) meet in the gym to spend one fun-filled hour playing, cheering each other on and—when they have extra players, which happens often these days—chatting on the sidelines while waiting their turn.
“It’s very joyful,” says Cristina Packard, math lecturer and AFSA co-chair. “We take a break from our academic obligations to see each other and get some exercise. It’s just fun.”

AFSA members after pickleball
From left: Friend of AFSA Felice Shore with AFSA members Liyan Song, Cristina Packard and Nerissa Paglinauan. (Photo courtesy of Felice Shore)

Packard and fellow AFSA members organized the sessions to balance the more serious topics discussed during their monthly meetings. It follows a popular trend among their group and the nation. The Sports & Fitness Industry Association ranks pickleball as the fastest-growing sport in the U.S., with everyone from Andre Agassi to Selena Gomez picking up paddles. Easy to learn and adaptable to a range of fitness levels, the sport’s accessibility has paved the way for high demand. Courts are cropping up across campuses and municipalities worldwide, including at TU.
Campus Recreation now offers pickleball five days a week, with sessions ranging from three to five hours long. They’re set up as open recreation, meaning any student, faculty or staff member can walk in with their OneCard and join. Nets are set up on the first floor in multipurpose activity court (MAC) 2, and paddles and balls can be borrowed for free. While it’s recommended players have an idea of how the game works before arriving, veterans happily offer pointers to newbies.
When AFSA members first started playing, Packard led a couple primer sessions for new players, and within a couple sessions, everyone was up to speed. They adjust for varying skill levels by switching partners each game and pairing less experienced players with seasoned ones. The competition is casual and the feeling communal: Everyone laughs when a ball flies into the rafters and cheers when someone nails a corner shot. The combination of movement and the sheer silliness of the sport’s name make for a relaxed, ego-free environment.

TU staff after a pickleball match
Song, Paglinauan and Packard with friend of AFSA Kari Schumm. (Photo courtesy of Cristina Packard)

“There’s nothing awkward about pickleball,” says Kari Schumm, a math lecturer in the Fisher College of Science & Mathematics. “You can make a terrible play and it really doesn’t matter. We all just laugh at each other and have fun.”
The benefits go deeper, too. Interest in the sport has enabled the group to expand its network, which now include members’ colleagues and partners. Regular sessions have also strengthened members’ connections, with sideline downtime leading to natural conversations on everything from new work projects to personal interests. One such discussion led two members to discover their shared love for choral singing, with one planning to attend the other’s next concert. The sessions have become so valued that several members commute to campus to play on days they aren’t even teaching.
“I like pickleball, and I like the people that go to pickleball,” says Schumm.
Packard summed it up best.
“I’m a happier and more productive person after playing with my colleagues.”

Celebrating apimeda history & culture

TU is celebrating APIMEDA communities, histories and experiences this May and beyond. Connect with stories from community members and learn about the events and resources available to Asian, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern and Desi American (APIMEDA) students, faculty and staff.