Pickleball. It’s not the fastest sport in the world, but it is one of the fastest-growing sports in America.
“It’s social and a great way to get exercise,” said Pat Hoon, 63, a Coeur d’Alene pickleball enthusiast and the director of Coeur d’Alene’s first pickleball tournament.
The tournament starts Friday at Cherry Hill Park in Coeur d’Alene. There are 210 registered players, said Letha Rodrigues, another pickleball player and tournament organizer. Players represent three Canadian provinces and 14 states, Hoon said.
Hoon, like many pickleball participants, played tennis when he was younger. As he aged, though, he wanted something easier on his body. That’s a big draw for the sport’s estimated 400,000 players, Hoon said.
The sport was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington. It’s a hybrid of tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong, and is played on a 20-by-44-foot court. The 3-foot-high net is a bit shorter in the middle. Games go to 11 points and are mostly played with a partner. Matches usually consist of the best of three games and are played with a slightly smaller version of a whiffle ball.
“You don’t even know you’re exercising,” Rodrigues said.
Rodrigues started playing pickleball four years ago. At that time she only knew a few other people who played. In an effort to find partners she started an email list with five names on it.
Now there are 180 players on her list. A group meets most every morning in Coeur d’Alene, usually at the Cherry Hill courts. Because the majority of them are retired – 68 percent of all players are over 60, according to Hoon – they play for most of the morning. All ages participate, however – some mornings find 18-year-olds playing alongside 70-year-olds, he said.
“We’re addicted,” Hoon said. “And because we’re retired we’ll play four or five times a week.”
The game is fundamentally a social one, Hoon said. Because the courts are smaller and the pace is slower, players banter back and forth. It’s competitive, and people take it seriously, but overall it’s a relaxed and enjoyable environment.
Most of the 40 or so players who assembled for one recent morning session in Coeur d’Alene didn’t know each other before picking up a pickleball racquet.
“We’ve met a lot of great friends,” Hoon said. “Most of us here only have this one thing in common.”
On any given summer morning a few players will be from out of town – just traveling through and looking for a match, he said. It’s a well-organized sport; the USA Pickleball Association, which has sanctioned this weekend’s tournament in Coeur d’Alene, hosts tournaments and connects players.
That organization has seeped into the local scene. Coeur d’Alene enthusiasts, working with the Coeur d’Alene Parks and Recreation Department, raised $10,000 to fund the building of pickleball courts. When construction is complete, there will be 24 outdoor pickleball courts in Coeur d’Alene, six of which will be dedicated solely to the sport. The others are tennis courts that include pickleball lines.
“I’ve been working hand-in-hand with them throughout this process,” said Bill Greenwood, parks superintendant. “We’re just supporting a new recreational activity.”
The six dedicated courts will be located at Northshire Park in Coeur d’Alene. They will replace two tennis courts already there. There also are three dedicated pickleball courts in Post Falls.
“It’s addictive,” Rodrigues said. “Absolutely addictive.”
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