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Phoenix Eyes Adding Pickleball to Rec Centers
Written by     April 04, 2013    
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Phoenix plans to add pickleball — often touted as America’s fastest-growing sport — to some or all of its recreation centers because of high demand.

The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department has launched a citywide study to determine whether to add pickleball programs this year. City officials say they likely will decide early this month which of the city’s 11 full-service recreation centers may add the sport.

“We’re just trying to assist with the latest and greatest sport,” said Esther Avila, Phoenix Parks and Recreation’s northwest division deputy director.

Pickleball is played like tennis but with bigger pingpong-like paddles and a plastic Wiffle ball on a badminton-size court. It can be played indoors or outdoors, but Phoenix officials are considering adding the game only to indoor facilities.

Avila said many people call the recreation centers and ask if they offer the sport. There’s a lack of pickleball courts in Phoenix other than three in the Ahwatukee area, according to the USA Pickleball Association website.

Sport gains traction

The sport, popular among seniors, is gaining traction among other groups. Places to play the sport have nearly doubled since 2010 to more than 1,500 across the country. About 84 of those are in Arizona, according to the USA Pickleball Association.

“It’s generally very popular wherever it’s tried,” said Bill Booth, president of the association.

Booth said he plays outdoors and does not have a lot of experience playing indoors. It’s likely that users of Phoenix recreation centers may have to adapt to the sport’s presence, he said.

City officials in February met with representatives from the Southwest Regional Pickleball Association and the U.S. Pickleball Association to learn more about the game.

The city does not know how many venues offer pickleball in Phoenix or how much it would cost to offer the sport.

“It’s going to be a learning process,” Avila said. “What we are doing is, we want to see how it works. Do people like it? Are we getting the numbers? Do people want to learn the sport?”

City Council approval would not be necessary, and the Parks and Recreation Department would absorb the cost of supplies, which includes the cost of about $240 per set of equipment.

City adds sport in Ahwatukee

Phoenix began offering pickleball in 2011 at Western Star Park in Ahwatukee. The city added pickleball lines on top of tennis-court lines. But tennis players complained, said Kurt Sjoerdsma, Phoenix’s south division recreation supervisor.

“It was a little too much,” Sjoerdsma said. “They really didn’t care for the extra lines. It’s nothing against pickleball. It just made their game more confusing because of the added lines.”

Pecos Community Center, also in Ahwatukee, began offering an indoor pickleball program in 2012. Pecos offers the sport twice a week in the morning. The pickleball area shares court space with volleyball and basketball — a situation some residents don’t like.

On a recent day, a group of teenagers at Pecos said there wasn’t enough room for both. The teenagers were waiting to play basketball.

“See how they are set up and they overlap?” said Kolbe Dumas, 14, pointing to the halfway mark of the court.

A teenager sitting next to Kolbe added, “We need two gyms, one for pickleball players and another for kids to play basketball.”

Jan Sherwood, Pecos Community Park manager, said the center plans to install a curtain divider this month to allow two sports activities at once.

Adjusting for the games

Avila says the city won’t place pickleball games outdoors or on tennis courts because, more than likely, the badminton areas would be possible locations at some centers. The two sports have the same dimensions, she said.

She said she does not expect issues about space to bubble up because the pickleball program will be scheduled in the mornings when there is less traffic at the city’s multipurpose centers.

However, adding pickleball to badminton can cause confusion.

The Pecos center has different colored stripes for each sport. The white lines are for volleyball, black and maroon lines for basketball and yellow for pickleball.

“It does take a little getting used to focusing on the lines that are applicable to pickleball,” said Joan Gillespie, USAPA ambassador. “We love our own dedicated courts, but I think it’s great that things can be dual- or triple-used and I think it’s efficient for our city to make dual use of facility as much as they can.”

Besides the lines, other potential challenges may crop up.

Kolbe said the sound of squeaky tennis shoes of pickleball players would distract him during a basketball game.

“When the shoes squeak, it causes me to stop because it sounds like a whistle,” he said. “In a basketball game, a whistle means stop.”

Kolbe is not convinced pickleball would gain a following by young people. The pace is too slow, he said.

However, he said he would be willing to learn.

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