This all-welcome game has people in a ‘pickle’ and loving it

Aug 17th, 2022 | By | Category: Spotlight

On a sunny Friday, the Browns Point Playfield courts in Tacoma were filled. Two athletic youngsters faced off against a retiree and a man using a leg brace. In the far court, an octogenarian played a younger newbie. Laughter rang out and jokes flew among the participants playing pickleball.

“It’s fun, it’s social, it can include everybody,” said Tom Yee, Metro Parks Tacoma’s pickleball supervisor, who runs the Browns Point sessions. “And you feel like a kid again when you play.”

Pickleball is Washington’s state sport. The Browns Point participants have grown to 150 players in just over a year, and Metro Parks is resurfacing outdoor courts and expanding indoor sessions to allow more people to play.

“It’s getting so popular,” said Parker Ayers, recreation supervisor. “We heard that people wanted more places for pickleball, so we’re creating more.”

Browns Point Playfield is one of those.

Pickleball courts also exist at the Vassault, Jefferson and Stewart Heights parks, and indoor drop-in sessions are hosted at the Norpoint, People’s and Eastside Community Centers, with equipment for loan.

The sport was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island as a family game on a home court, and it has taken off more recently, especially in the Northwest. Although it’s played in a four-quartered rectangle like tennis, it’s actually more like a giant version of ping pong, with similar paddles and a hard plastic ball (the latter is similar to a Wiffle ball). Competitors can play singles or doubles, or keep switching people in and out of the game. Either way, the focus is on strategy rather than athletic running and slamming.

With 35 percent growth nationally over the last three years, pickleball was recently featured on ABC television’s “Good Morning America,” and NBC News has called it “the fastest-growing sport you’ve never heard of.”

“This is a wildly popular sport because it’s a very entry-level activity and everyone is invited to the party,” said Ayers. “I can have a person in a sports wheelchair playing their able-bodied friend, or a 90-year-old man playing his 9-year-old grandson. It’s unique in who it can serve.”

“Playing social sports is so important for keeping people healthy at all ages, and pickleball is a sport for everybody,” said Metro Parks Commission member Aaron Pointer. “We’re really happy that Metro Parks can listen to our community and add more ways to play.”

At the Browns Point Playfield courts, one of the players is Yee’s 88-year-old mother, Pat (“It’s fun and good exercise”), and sister Teresa Hoggarth, who said playing makes her “feel young and competitive again. And you make so many new friends.”

Clare Broadhead, taking a break from a singles game with Pat, said she and her husband “are new to the area, and during (the pandemic) it was hard to meet people. This is so much fun and easy to pick up, and people are really welcoming. The courts are smaller, so you can have conversations all the time.”

On the doubles court were John Turnquist, a 74-year-old playing with a hip replacement and knee brace, playing doubles with Mike Williams against former tournament tennis player Tara Kleca and 29-year-old Christian Meister, a former minor-league baseball pitcher.

“This is physical therapy,” said Turnquist. “It’s kept me moving for five years.”

For Williams, it’s about the exercise and meeting “a bunch of people. And you know how you felt as a kid going out to recess? That’s how it feels playing pickleball.”

Beginners can get their start in pickleball by visiting one of Metro Parks’ community centers and using the equipment there. Players who have their own paddles can show up at Browns Point Playfield any weekday morning from 9 to 11am, or bring a friend to the courts at Stewart Heights, Vassault and Jefferson. Updates and opportunities are online at metroparkstacoma.org/pickleball.

 

Source: Metro Parks Tacoma

Tom Yee takes a whack at pickleball himself when he isn’t coordinating Metro Parks Tacoma’s recreational opportunities to play the game.

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