Pickleball is likely not the first thing people think about when considering sports to check into, but it is becoming ever more popular for people of all ages. It’s an easy-to-learn sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong.
The Little Falls pickleball group was started in 2016 and has about 30 players who come as their schedules allow. Play times are varied in order to draw as many players as possible, according to coordinator Peggy Anderson.
“Pickleball is a great sport for those who did not play sports when they were young,” said Anderson. “People can learn it easily and play at any age.”
Carl Terwey heard about pickleball through word-of-mouth and started when the Little Falls group opened. “It gets me out of the house,” he said with a grin.
“I heard about it from friends and started playing last year,” said Susan Smieja. “I like everything about it – fun game, great exercise, competitive and the interaction with other people.”
Pickleball began in 1965 in Washington State. Three friends and their families were gathered together and looking for an activity all could play. They set up a badminton net but couldn’t find the shuttlecock. They improvised by lowering the net, using a whiffle ball and paddles made of plywood from a shed.
The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) website calls it the fastest-growing sport in America. There are formal rules for play. There are sanctioned regional tournaments, national championship play and national senior games.
Pickleball players have a lot of fun together. One of the USAPA rules states: “Get the ball over the net and remember to smile.” Pictured playing in two courts at a recent Little Falls game (from left) are: Ray Anderson, Paul Younie, Molly Schell and Marilyn Husby.
The people playing in Little Falls span a wide range of ages, from teenagers to three players who are 79 this year. Several younger people who are laid off during the winter often come to play, Anderson said. “Some of our faithful players are now enjoying the warmth of the South and playing on a daily basis.”
The makeup of the teams changes with the playing times. The current schedule lists games from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, Wednesday nights from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoons from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m., all at St. Francis Health and Recreation.
Players are working to expand their choice of playing locations. For one thing, it is too warm in the gym to play during summers, so they are seeking an outdoor location. There are rarely-used tennis courts in town that would make the perfect place and players have approached the city about using them.
One pickleball court fits into half a tennis court.
“Many communities around us have outside courts that are filled from early in the spring until late fall,” Anderson said. “It is an activity that will not only keep people in Little Falls but will bring people here. We have people who drive 30 miles to play as well as those who live right in town.”
Josh Schreder is in his 30s. He first played as a seventh-grader but didn’t play again until 2015. “I like it because it is easy to play and it gives me something competitive to do.”
There are other pickleball groups around Morrison County and nearby. Mike Holmen is the coordinator for a group in Upsala.
“We started playing last winter in a school gym as part of Upsala Area Schools’ community education program,” Holmen said.
An Upsala couple, David and Suzanne Johnson, had played quite a bit in Arizona and wanted to start a group here. They received permission to tape a couple courts in the gym, and set it up.
“In the summer, we taped courts on one of the community tennis courts,” said Holmen. “We play two or three days a week through the winter and summer, with anywhere from four to a dozen people showing up. We have players from Upsala, Holdingford and Big Birch Lake.”
Joanna Koenen prepares to serve the ball during a recent pickleball game at St. Francis Health and Recreation in Little Falls. Pickleball uses elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong.
In the fall, the group also painted a permanent court in the Upsala Recreation Building near the athletic fields. The building is shared with the Horseshoe Club, the Archery Club and many other entities that use/rent the building.
If anyone would like to play pickleball in Upsala, contact David Johnson at (320) 573-2529 or Mike Holmen at (320) 573-2870. Extra paddles are available if someone wants to try the game without spending much money. The charge is typically $2 for about two hours of play.
For more information about playing in Little Falls, contact Anderson at (320) 584-8038.
There are also groups in Long Prairie, Swanville, Brainerd and Waite Park.