Anoka County cities are getting the ball rolling on joining the ranks of communities that are latching onto one of the hottest sports for seniors — pickleball.
“It’s just fun. It’s a social thing for the seniors,” said Sandy Rose of Ham Lake, who has been on the forefront of a large movement to add pickleball courts throughout the county in cities like Blaine, Coon Rapids and Ham Lake.
Pickleball has been popular in retirement communities for many years because it does not require a lot of athleticism.
According to Rose, one 84-year-old man with osteoporosis and another 82-year-old man who had trouble bending his knees were able to play the sport.
Pam Scott of Ham Lake knows one 82-year-old woman who plays, but said it can be just as fun for younger people.
“It’s just good exercise. When I get home, I’m all sweaty,” said Vern Montroy of Andover, who started playing two years ago in his winter retirement community in Florida.
And it is a social activity that does have some league play in the Twin Cities, but not as much as other sports. Tom and Jeanne Gearhart of Coon Rapids said there are “pretty darn good players” down in Eden Prairie where they will be participating in a tournament. They have also played in Bloomington and as far away as St. Cloud since they picked up the sport 12 years ago in their Arizona retirement community.
Coon Rapids City Councilmember Bruce Sanders first saw the game played in Florida and is among about two dozen people that Rose emails to set up games throughout the week.
Many of them met playing in Maple Grove, which has pickleball courts in parks and inside its community center. Rose has also played in Brooklyn Park and Hopkins.
Although the $8 in gas for every round trip was not deterring Rose from making the trip to Maple Grove, she and other friends from Anoka County she met in Maple Grove talked about how nice it would be to be able to play closer to home.
Now Rose can drive five minutes to get to courts in Blaine and Ham Lake.
“We’ve been playing a long time. Now we don’t have to drive as far to do it,” Tom Gearhart said.
Blaine added pickleball boundary stripes to a tennis court at Carrara East Park and Centennial Green Park. A court solely for pickleball could be part of the Lexington Athletic Complex development, according to Jerome Krieger, program supervisor for the Blaine Parks and Recreation Department.
Ham Lake has two pickleball courts at Ham Lake Lions Park off 157th Avenue and west of Highway 65.
Coon Rapids has four pickleball courts on the outside rink at the new Coon Rapids Ice Center and has added two more courts in Moor Park.
Public works and recreation officials with these cities said one nice thing about pickleball from a city standpoint is the low budget to make it available. All they have to do is add yellow stripes to a tennis court for pickleball boundaries. Tennis uses white lines. Having a different net is appreciated by players because the nets are lower than in tennis, but not every city provides this.
Not all courts are equal. When trying out the new court at Blaine’s Carrara East Park, Rose brought jugs of water to weigh down the tennis net and a ruler to make sure it the height was 34 inches. There were enough people there to play two games at one time and the tennis court is big enough to handle two pickleball courts, but Blaine only striped one court at this park.
Coon Rapids Recreation Coordinator Ryan Gunderson and Ham Lake Public Works Superintendent Tom Reiner said they have nets available, but they are locked up and players must call ahead or request them at the Coon Rapids Ice Center if that is where they are playing.
However, Gunderson said the Coon Rapids Ice Center pickleball courts flood every time it rains because they are within an outdoor hockey rink that is designed for keeping ice intact and flat during the winter, and not for drainage. That is why a tennis court at Moor Park now has two pickleball courts.
The four players in a game do not have to run as far because the court dimensions are much smaller than for tennis. The smaller ball, which resembles a whiffle ball, does not travel as far even with a good whack from the paddle.
“Pickleball is sort of a hybrid between tennis, table tennis, badminton,” Sanders said.
One unique aspect of pickleball is a seven-foot, no volley zone on each side of the net, which is called “the kitchen.” Players can only step into this area after the ball has bounced once on each side after the initial serve and then only if a ball bounces within “the kitchen.”
If a player volleys a ball while improperly standing in “the kitchen,” the other team gets a point if it was serving or gets the ball back if it was not serving.
Once the ball bounces at least once on each side after the initial serve, players can hit the ball back and forth without it landing or let it bounce once before returning the ball.
Points can only be scored by the serving team and the first team to get to 11 points and be ahead by at least two points wins.
To find out more about the sport and places to play, visit the Minnesota Pickleball Association website at www.pickleballminnesota.com.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]