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HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — In what other sport than pickleball could you play professionally alongside your kids?

“I can’t think of one, it’s amazing,” said Julie Johnson, the number one ranked senior women’s pickleball player in the world. 

The Johnsons are the first family of pickleball with mom Julie, 19-year-old son JW—the second ranked men’s player in the world—and his 16-year-old sister Jorja—the 4th ranked female singles player.

“I’m the wisest, JW has the fastest hands, but Jorja hits the hardest,” Julie said.

“Mom is no competition,” JW said. “My sister is a little, but mom I got taken care of, not a problem right now.”

The Johnsons are part of the 700 pickleballers—pros and regular joes and Janes—putting their dinking skills to the test all week in Highland Park for the 4th annual Chicago Open, a stop on the Association of Pickleball Professionals Tour.

“Our first year [2018] was in Naperville, and we had 400 people our first year, so just as everyone has seen this sport has taken off,” said Libertyville native Ken Herrmann, founder of the APP tour. “After running the Chicago Open, I realized there was no tour going on. So I got together with some advisors, went down to my basement for six months, and put a program together. Now we have over $2 million dollars in prize money and 32 stops this year while hoping to release our 2023 schedule in the next week or so.”

The growth of the sport has coincided with an influx of tennis players replacing their rackets with paddles and flocking to the fastest growing sport in the country. But while not everyone will turn pro, pickleball remains highly accessible to almost anyone.

“It’s a great sport because you can get good fairly quickly, unlike tennis which takes months or years to develop,” Herrmann said. “I can’t think of sports you can do where the grandfather and grandchild are out there together.”