Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America, and some residents in Ames are bringing that momentum to the city.
When Harvest Vineyard Church, located at 320 S. 17th St., bought its current building from Ames Fitness Center on Jan. 1, 2017, they decided to keep two tennis courts on the south end of the building because before Ames Fitness built the tennis bubble at their south facility, there was nowhere in Ames where people could go to play indoor tennis in the winter.
According to the United States Pickleball Association website, Pickleball was created in 1965 when Joel Pritchard, a congressman in the state of Washington, and Bill Bell, a businessman, were at Pritchard’s home, and their families had nothing to do. Their home had a badminton court, but they didn’t have enough equipment to play, so they grabbed ping-pong paddles and a plastic ball, eventually lowered the net to 36 inches off of the ground, and played.
Later on, a third man, Barney McCullum began playing with them, and the three men created rules for the game. As far as the name of the sport goes, there are two theories behind it.
According to Joan Pritchard, wife of Joel Pritchard, they got the name because they were using leftovers from other sports such as their badminton equipment to create this new game, and it reminded her of the sport of rowing where the oarsmen who are leftover are all put into one boat, the pickle boat.
On the other hand, McCullum said that it was because the Pritchard family dog was named Pickles, and he would chase the ball and run away with it.
The game was created as a family oriented game, so anyone at any age could play. Ida Johnson, Ames resident and member of Ames Pickleball Group, explained the story of how pickleball came about, and said that since it was for people of all ages, they had to take that into account when creating the rules.
“They had a guy that was like 6-feet, 6-inches playing against kids, so they wanted rules that would help balance that out,” Johnson said. “That’s why they had no volley zones. At seven feet back from the net, you’re not allowed to hit a volley or an overhead slam like you can in tennis.”
Johnson said that the Ames group is going into its fifth year of playing together and they started playing at the church last winter.
Holly Greufe, of Ames, started playing with the group a little over two years ago. In that time, she said that she has seen the group continue to grow.
She and Johnson agreed that having more strength does not necessarily give a player an advantage in the sport.
“Some of these guys are big, brawny guys, and they are really hard hitters, but with this game, you don’t have to be a powerful hitter,” Johnson said. “It really evens out to different abilities and strengths.”
Micah Taintor, project and operations manager at Harvest Vineyard Church, said that when the Ames Fitness Center was putting up the Tennis Bubble, they had the company that was painting the lines on the courts come to their facility and draw up the Pickleball lines.
“We used to have to come (early) and tape down the lines,” Greufe said. “So that was really nice.”
Taintor said that when they redid the facility in mid January, the group came up to him again and wanted to know if they could play on the courts four afternoons every week instead of two.
“We really just wanted to get top of the line stuff, so we upgraded the whole facility,” Taintor said. “People want to play where there’s good quality, and there’s not a lot of entertainment here that you can get for three bucks.”
The group plays at the church every Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 1:30-3:30 p.m. They also play on Saturday from 2-4 p.m.
Anyone can come play, but every person that comes to play has to pay $3 each time to the Ames Tennis center at the church.
Johnson said that the facility also has some paddles for those who do not have their own.
“It’s such a great group,” Johnson said. “People are competitive, but they’re friendly and just wonderful to be around.”