By Sarah Seifert Leader-Telegram staff
Dan Cooper of Chippewa Falls returns a shot recently on the newly resurfaced pickleball courts at McDonough Park.
Pickleball enthusiasts from the Chippewa Valley and across the U.S. will play on revamped courts at an Eau Claire park this weekend, in the fifth year of the city’s annual pickleball competition.
The Fifth Annual Outdoor Pickleball Palooza Tournament is slated for today and Sunday, running 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days at McDonough Park, 800 Centre St. The Chippewa Valley Pickleball Club is hosting the competition.
About 121 players in 81 teams − including men’s, women’s and mixed − are expected to compete in Eau Claire this weekend, said Ron Doering, the tournament’s director, club member and the USA Pickleball Association ambassador for the Eau Claire area.
The competition hosts plenty of Chippewa Valley players, but some will travel from La Crosse, Wausau, Rhinelander, Tomah, the Twin Cities area and even Florida, Doering said.
Available both days will be a paddle swap and sale from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., where players can bring, resell or buy used equipment.
Pickleball is typically played with singles or doubles. Teams serve and volley the ball back and forth to attempt to score; teams win by reaching a score of 11.
The park’s newly painted and conditioned courts will get a first taste of tournament play this weekend. The updates were finished in June, Doering said.
In addition to new paint and surface conditioning, the Chippewa Valley Pickleball Club fundraising push to add six new courts to McDonough Park this year also funded new pavement and a parking lot.
“They look like they’re brand new,” Doering said.
While the club has fundraised over the past several years, “pickleball just exploded in Eau Claire,” said Julie Booth, the city of Eau Claire recreation program supervisor.
The new courts are part of a larger project to add equipment to McDonough Park to keep seniors active, including a walking trail, bocce ball courts, disc golf and a pavilion, Booth said.
“All of that has stemmed from the pickleball phenomenon that happened in Eau Claire,” Booth said. “There are a lot of active volunteers.”
The tournament has nearly doubled in size since its first year at McDonough Park, when just 46 teams played. For the first time this year, to accommodate 81 teams, the tournament will be two days long instead of one.
“It got to the point where we couldn’t fit a schedule with the number of teams we had, even with 12 courts,” Doering said.
Registration ended on Aug. 28 for this weekend’s competition, but many players and families attend the tournament to watch, Doering said.
Pickleball is gaining popularity in the Chippewa Valley and across the U.S., Doering and Booth said. Doering says the sport is easy for seniors to play, but demanding enough that young athletes find it competitive.
“We have people of all sizes, socioeconomic (backgrounds) and ages,” Booth said. “We’ve had players as young as eight or nine coming with their families, as well as players well into their 80s.”
This year’s tournament will be Eau Claire’s most competitive so far, Doering said.
“It’s truly the fastest-growing sport in the U.S.,” he said.