There’s a new sport in town, and it’s one most people have probably never heard of before.
The sport is called “pickleball,” and has a playing court that uses the dimensions and layout of a badminton court with a net and rules similar to tennis.
“It’s tennis with oversized ping-pong paddles and whiffle balls,” said pickleball enthusiast John Pattie of The Dalles. “It’s under-handed serve, and it’s as fun as all get out.”
Pattie was one of about 25 people taking part in the sport last Wednesday evening in the Assembly Hall at the Readiness Center at Columbia Gorge Community College.
“It’s designed to be really fun for people who are not athletes,” added Bill Seymour, another pickleball enthusiast.
Indeed, one of the reason the sport is gaining in popularity appears to be that individuals do not have to be in tip-top shape to play. It’s more about getting exercise while playing an enjoyable game rather than participating in a heavy workout. That doesn’t mean the sport is easy, however, and it can provide a healthy level of exercise.
“There is quite a bit of running at times,” explained Eric Vanderveer, a resident of The Dalles.
Vanderveer said the sport was entirely new to him.
“I’d never heard of it before last year,” he pointed out. “They love to say it’s the fastest growing sport in the United States, but I don’t know how you’d prove it.”
In any case, Vanderveer said interest in the new sport appears to be building in The Dalles.
“This is just our third week; it’s like a trial run,” said Vanderveer.
Timothy McGlothlin, a member of The Dalles City Council, has been one of the primary organizers bringing the sport to the community. He said he was introduced to pickleball by a friend.
“Last summer, Jim Richardson, a good friend from Lyle, returned from Yuma (Ariz.), where he lives during the winter months,” McGlothlin explained. “He raved about a sport that is growing in popularity in the Southwest and Florida. The game was pickleball. I had never heard of it, but I knew nothing like that was in The Dalles.”
McGlothlin said he heard that other nearby cities -- including Hood River and Stevenson – have frequent pickleball activities, and that concerned him.
“Other cities around us had active players, but none in The Dalles,” McGlothlin said. “That couldn’t stand. The Dalles needs to be leading.”
So McGlothlin went to Scott Baker, director of the Northern Wasco County Parks & Recreation District, and introduced the idea of forming a club in The Dalles. Baker liked the concept, so he and McGlothlin set about looking for potential sites to host the sport.
“Scott contacted Suzanne Burd from Columbia Gorge Community College, and we were off to the races,” McGlothlin said. “I purchased the first initial net, balls, and a few paddles to get started. Four members of the Gorge Pickleball Association helped start our club with a three-hour clinic at the Readiness Center.”
McGlothlin said he ended up learning a bit more about the sport than he probably cared to, because in just his second game, his partner missed a ball heading across the net — and he made a snap decision he came to regret.
“I thought to myself, ‘should I go for it?’” McGlothlin recalled. “I instinctively made a 25-year-old decision in a 65-year-old body, and that decision was not compatible.”
McGlothlin said as he was moving backwards in his effort to get to the ball, he realized his momentum was pushing him toward a bench, and the scene played out in slow motion.
“There was nothing I could do except wait for the outcome,” he explained. “You know the fall is going to end and it may not look very pretty. I think the excruciating pain was probably not as bad as the embarrassment of sitting there gasping for air.”
McGlothlin said X-rays revealed three fractured ribs and a partially collapsed lung. But he was determined to soldier on after he healed.
“I realized that the foolish decision I made should not deter me from something I enjoy,” he said. “I saddled back up, bought a pickleball paddle and stepped back on a court with my friends. You can get hit crossing a street, falling down stairs, or any number of bad things can happen. I learned that my youth had ended, but that the fun and enjoyment doesn’t necessarily have to end as well.”
According to McGlothlin, interest in the sport has jumped in the three weeks it has been offered in The Dalles.
“We started with two players, and we currently have 33 folks on our list,” McGlothlin said. “That number is growing every week, and we expect to have many residents coming out to join the fun. It is a great way to get into shape and meet some wonderful new friends.”
Suzanne Burd, community education coordinator for Columbia Gorge Community College, said “Pickleball 101” will be offered as a 12-week community education class starting in late September.
“We haven't nailed down days and times for a fall class,” Burd said. “It will be offered two days a week.”
Burd said the course objectives are “to develop an understanding of the game; to improve playing skills to become more competitive; to improve personal health and fitness; and to have fun.”
“There is a lot of interest,” Burd added.
“Our goal is to collaborate with Northern Wasco County Parks & Recreation District, Columbia Gorge Community College, and eventually the Blue Zones Project when they get up and running,” McGlothlin said.
Until late September, the playing court at Assembly Hall in the Readiness Center is available for pickleball games on Wednesdays from 5 to 7 p.m. (for beginners) and from 7 to 9 p.m. for more experienced players. Pickleball is also open on Thursdays from 9 to 11 a.m. Until the CGCC classes start, the activity is free and open to the public, with no registration required.