Pickleball fans clamoring for more courts

Pickleball is picking up so much momentum in Dubuque (IA) and the tri-states, participants are lobbying for more courts.

“We’re outgrowing Flora Park very quickly,” active Dubuque player Jay Imhof, 64, said of the four tennis and two volleyball courts that can be adjusted for pickleball. “When we’re playing, we often have eight to 10 people sitting out and waiting.”

Roger Smith, 77, estimates there are 70-90 local players. Many play weekly at regular times, mostly in the mornings.

“Every week we have to lower the nets,” he said. “They’re not true nets. But they work for us. We have fun.”

A lot of Americans of all ages are having similar fun. According to last year’s Sports & Fitness Association’s Participation Report, 2.46 million people were playing the sport, and that number is predicted to eventually reach 8 million – not coincidentally with the aging of baby boomers.

Imhof and Smith know about those numbers, too. They met informally with members of the Dubuque Park Division last week to discuss possible future courts, including some of the tennis courts at Veteran’s Memorial Park.

“They’re very receptive to the idea of partnering in some long-range plans,” Imhof said. “We understand that this isn’t going to happen overnight.”

Pickleball began in 1965 on an island near Seattle when a family was looking for something different and relatively easy to play. They used table tennis paddles and a wiffle ball, and lowered the net on their badminton court.

There is an audible “thwack” every time a wooden pickleball racket hits the plastic, perforated ball. Serves must be underhand, the ball must “double bounce” before volleys and there is a “no volley” zone extending seven feet on either side of the net.

Along with the six courts at Flora, there are six that can be used at the Dubuque Golf & Country Club, two in Asbury and three indoors at the Peosta Community Center.

“It gives another amenity to our members,” said Rich Bugalski, general manager at the Country Club. “There’s been no objection from the tennis players. A lot of former tennis players gravitate toward pickleball,” after they no longer can handle the physical aspects of tennis.

Many locals say they learned about the sport from people who had been to The Villages, an upscale retirement area in Central Florida that has more than 100 pickleball courts.

“You get the same action and great exercise,” Smith said. “It’s very addictive, especially if you’ve played tennis. And, it’s a very social game.”

The sport is popular and growing elsewhere in the tri-states, as well.

“It’s off the charts,” said Sue Young, recreation manager at the Galena (IL) Territory. “We’ve had it here for several years. It’s a multi-generational sport, but most popular in that 50-and-over group.”

The Territory recently constructed three permanent, pickleball-only courts as part of its Marina Flood Mitigation Project. There also are multi-function areas on an outdoor basketball court and in the gym that can be used for pickleball.

Games are being played in the Fennimore, WI Memorial Building on Wednesday nights, and they’re hoping to add Thursday nights to the schedule, according to pickleball player Debra Swim.

And in Platteville, WI recreation coordinator Luke Peters said three indoor courts at the Armory are almost always full with players.

“It’s a pretty amazing sport,” Peters said. “Athletic ability goes into it, but positioning is so much more important than in some sports. Different ages can compete at a very even level.”- by Jim Swenson, Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, IA)