By Melissa Turtinen firstname.lastname@example.org Nov 26, 2019
If you ask anyone who plays pickleball, they’ll likely tell you it is becoming a popular game because it is a social activity, and good exercise.
What is pickleball?
Pickleball is a sport that combines elements of ping pong, tennis and badminton. It is played on a court that’s the same size as a badminton court with a net that is 34 inches high at the center. Players use a composite or wooden paddle that’s about twice the size of a ping-pong paddle to hit a perforated plastic ball, similar to a wiffle ball, over the net. It can be played as a single or doubles sport.
Sandy Rasmussen, of Mound, started playing pickleball last year after she “semi-retired” — one of her goals was to get back into shape, and she had a friend who was playing pickleball, so she went to a class at Westonka Community Education and learned how.
Now she plays about three times a week at the Westonka Activity Center in Minnetrista. She likes it because “I get my 10,000 steps in” and she is “meeting all new people in my community. Love the people. It’s all about the people,” Rasmussen said. “We laugh a lot. We have a great time.”
Laurie Hynes, co-vice president of the Twin Cities Pickleball Club, says the people are among the best things about the sport.
“One of the greatest things about pickleball is that you can go anywhere and find a game,” Hynes told Southwest News Media via email from London, where she was traveling and found some people to play with. She Googled “pickleball in London” and sent off an email to a group.
“I heard back in about 10 minutes and wound up meeting a couple at a London tube station and caught a ride to their courts with them. Now I have international friends all because of pickleball,” Hynes said, noting she has also played in Arizona, Florida, California and New Jersey by “just showing up at the courts, finding out the local court etiquette and joining in.”
Hynes initially started playing the sport because she was looking to get some exercise combined with a little competition, and she was hooked.
“It took me about five minutes to know I was going to love this game,” she said. “I was immediately drawn to it because it is fun, but also because it is such a social sport. I have met many, many wonderful people through pickleball.”
Many other players have echoed similar sentiments, which is why Hynes believes it has become such a popular sport in recent years. Not only that, but people who play are “so welcoming and eager to share their sport, that people are drawn to the game,” she said.
“The culture is one of ‘passing it on’ by welcoming beginners, teaching them, and adjusting when playing beginning players to assure they have a positive experience,” said Keith Randklev, a pickleball player and volunteer at the Westonka Activity Center who helped put together pickleball classes and skills sessions.
EASY TO LEARN
The game is also easy to learn and anyone can play it, from those with bad knees to seasoned athletes. That’s because of the way the rules are set up, explained Bill Pinegar, a 72-year-old Orono man who began playing pickleball at the Westonka Activity Center in March 2019, noting the rules make it so players can “get better by application of skill, not necessarily by application of physicality.”
“There are three rules that make this a game where young can play with old, women can play men, and seasoned players can play with people just learning the game,” said Scott Schreier, 63, of Eden Prairie. Schreier plays pickleball in Eden Prairie, Chanhassen and Victoria.
Those rules, Schreier said, are: no overhead serves; the ball must bounce once on each side before players can rush the net; and there is a “no volley zone” within 7 feet of the net, so players can’t hit the ball in the air inside the area.
“It started with seniors, but now young people are discovering the sport. That has caused an explosion in the sport,” Hynes said.
The Twin Cities Pickleball Club started as the Southwest Metro Pickleball Club, but expanded to the Twin Cities as membership grew. The club now has more than 800 members, which is up “significantly” from just a few years ago, Hynes said.
The history of pickleball
Pickleball may seem like a newer sport, but it is celebrating its 54th anniversary this year. The game was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, by three dads — Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum — when their kids were bored during the summer. It evolved from their original homemade equipment and simple rules into the sport that’s now growing exponentially in popularity across the country.
The name is one of the most interesting aspects of the sport, as it does not have anything to do with pickles. Stories about how the real name originated differ from the families who invented it. Barney McCallum says the game is named after the Pritchards’ dog Pickles, who would chase the ball and run after it while they were playing. Meanwhile, Pritchard’s wife said she started calling it pickleball because “the combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.” Others involved with the invention of the sport claim both stories may be true — early on, the game didn’t have a real name. But after a year or two, the Pritchards got a cocker spaniel and named it Pickles. As they continued to play the sport and needed to give it a real name, pickleball was chosen.
Source: USA Pickleball Association.
It helps, too, that many cities and communities have or are planning to add pickleball courts to local parks and activity centers. In Wayzata and Savage, pickleball courts are being discussed as part of future park plans. While in Eden Prairie, the city opened eight outdoor courts last year.
“The cities of the southwest metro area are great supporters of pickleball. Most cities have added outdoor courts to encourage and handle all of the active and interested pickleball players. Also most of the communities have carved out time in the recreation/community centers to accommodate us as best possible in their indoor facilities,” Schreier said.
Having a place to play indoors during Minnesota’s long winters is key for pickleball players. The Twin Cities Pickleball Club leases courts from Champions Hall in Eden Prairie in the winter, Hynes said, but one of the club’s goals is to find more indoor facilities at which people can play.
The Westonka Activity Center, which was built as part of an expansion to Mound Westonka High School in Minnetrista last year, has indoor pickleball courts and is familiar with players’ desire to have a spot indoors to play. Lindsey Rague, Westonka Activity Center and facilities manager, said it offered 21 hours of pickleball a week when it opened last fall, and now the Activity Center offers nearly 30 hours a week.
The facility has offered beginner pickleball classes since it opened, which has helped introduce more than 125 people to the game of pickleball, Randklev said.
Players at the Activity Center range in age from their 20s to 80s, Rague said, and the age range was reflected in the participants of the facility’s first-ever pickleball tournament — the Westonka Winter Pickleball Classic — on Nov. 2. The tournament had 118 players (69 men and 49 women) participating.
“It went absolutely wonderful,” Rague said of the tournament. “We will definitely make this an annual event.”
Pinegar played in the tournament after starting the sport of pickleball in March 2019. He found the sport easy to learn, albeit he admits there are a couple weird rules and a learning curve to being able to hit your serve in bounds.
“The group that I started learning with was very patient with me. They would give me as many as four tries, and I joke with beginners — we give them two — I say ‘They’re cheating you, they gave me four,’” said Pinegar, who learned how to play by showing up to the Westonka Activity Center one day. Now he plays four or five times per week.
He encourages everyone to try pickleball because “The only way you’ll know whether you might like it is to come out and try it,” and he’s sure you’ll be welcomed to the sport the same way he was, noting “It doesn’t matter whether you’ve ever played any other sport before or not.”
“Check your local community calendar to find a place to play, take a lesson, join in a game — you’ll be hooked and become a lifelong pickleball player,” Schreier said.