Pickleball popularity is booming

New players, new courts, new clubs in many communities


by Jim Palmer


In March, Senior Perspective made a call out to all pickleball groups to contribute toward this article. These are just some of the many pickleball groups that have started up across our distribution area. If your community is not included in this article, and you want to find out the closest pickleball location near you, contact city hall, your area Chamber of Commerce, or your high school’s Community Education Office for more direction.

Pickleball players in Glenwood fired the ball back in forth in a friendly match last fall. Photo by Jim Palmer

Back in 1965, a new sport was invented, originally intended as a kid’s backyard game, in Bainbridge Island, Washington. It was a cross between tennis, ping-pong, and badminton, and it was given a funny name. Today, pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the United States with more than 5 million people playing, according to a USA Today report. The growth has accelerated even faster in recent years with more people discovering the sport. In our distribution area, numerous courts have been built and clubs have been formed to keep up with the demand. This article shows how some communities are working to accommodate the influx of pickleballers in their areas.


Pickleball is played with two or four players. Players have paddles and hit a perforated ball over a net. Growth of the sport is happening in both the young and older populations, and every in-between. This is likely because pickleball is one of the few sports that can be played competitively by people of all ages and all shapes and sizes. A pickleball court is similar to badminton, with a net similar to tennis, and the paddles are similar to those in table tennis... only larger.


Why Play Pickleball?

Why are so many playing pickleball? Here is what some players in the area are saying about the sport and why they decided to give it a try:



Some of the active members of the Perham Pickleball group. posed for a photo at a recent event. Contributed photo

“One can make pickleball as much of a workout as you wish,” said Kurt Lemke, 68, of the Northern Paddlers, St. Cloud, who has been playing for 10 years after a friend suggested he give it a try. “And it is great for socialization.”


“I started playing Pickleball through Litchfield Community Education,” said Nate Stottrup, 43, of Litchfield. “I’ve been playing for a couple of years. My favorite part of playing is the fire fights at the net.”


“I was asked to try pickleball through community education and I was hooked right away,” said Peggy Bowlus, who has played for 10 years. “I like the camaraderie and the excitement I see from the people who love the sport. I also love seeing the improvements in people. I especially enjoy seeing people play pickleball for the first time.”


“I started playing about four years ago,” said Wendell Giese of Richmond. “I decided to try it because my wife twisted my arm. I like the sport because people of all ages can play. It helps build friendships, it promotes health, builds community, and you can be as competitive as you like. There are lots of good times and positive interactions on the courts.”


“I decided to try pickleball for the exercise, the fun, and the socialization with other players, said Earle Peters, 79, of Mankato, an active member of MAPA for the last 10 years. “It keeps me active, and I’m meeting lots of new friends.”


“It’s an activity my husband and I can do together, and get some exercise and fun, too,” said Ruth Kuster, 50, of Mankato, who has played for about two and a half years. “I love competing, and love that I can be competitive within my age group and skill level.”


Leland R. Rients, 81, of Willmar has been playing for more than 18 years. He started playing after the racquetball club closed in town. He helped bring pickleball to Willmar several years ago and won a national tournament in his years of playing. “I like the sport because everyone can play,” he said. “And it is growing. There are six new courts in Willmar.”


“I decided to try pickleball for something to do and have some fun,” said Robert Zavala, 35, of Litchfield, who started playing this past winter. “And it has been fun getting to know new people.”


"I’ve been playing pickeball for three years, with a stop in there during Covid,” said Ann Dragsten of Monticello. “I decided to try it because I love sports and wanted to be more active. I also would watch others play pickleball and it looked like a lot of fun. I really like the socialization. The people are so nice and it’s so much fun to play.”


“I started playing about a year ago,” said Steve A. Loen, 67, of Glenwood. “I wanted to learn the sport, get some exercise, and meet more people in the community.”


“I have been playing for approximately 10 years now,” said Diane Bartz of Waite Park. “I wanted to learn the game for exercise and social, and so when I was in Arizona for the winter, I would know how to play.”


“I decided to try pickleball about seven years ago at the urging of our summertime neighbors,” said Al Krueger, 70, of Perham. “They introduced the game to me and my wife while we were in Florida for the winter. We looked to connect with a local group during the summer months and started playing regularly. I like the social interaction with the other players. They laughter on the court is something I always look forward to. We have been blessed to make so many new friends at the courts. I also look forward to game competition, but without the friendship we have developed, it would not be as rewarding. And no matter where we go across the country, it is very easy to connect with other players who play for the same reasons we do.”



Some pickleball players don’t just play in Minnesota. Snowbirds often find several pickleball opportunities during the colder months. Pictured is the first annual Litchfield Minnesota Pickleball event in Apache Junction, Arizona, held on March 1. Participating were (back L to R) Terry Tancabel, Lori Haffley, Jill Wold, Mark Karels, (front L to R) Joyce Kiehn, Char Tancabel, Patty Karels and Jackie Asp. Contributed photo

“I wanted to stay active, which is why I started playing in the fall of 2020,” said Linda Schroeder, 68, of Glenwood. “It is an easy game to learn and it is a game that can be played with grandchildren and people of all age groups.”


“I have been playing pickleball for about 20 years,” said Marvin Juffer of Hutchinson. “I like all types of sports. I play a lot of ping-pong and played a lot of badminton and tennis in my younger years. I like pickleball because it’s fun, competitive, and there is a lot of camaraderie and exercise.”


“I have been playing for about 8-10 years,” said Renie Ogara, 74, of Waite Park. “I thought it sounded like a lot of fun, and I was also looking to meet people and get some exercise.”


“My friends encouraged me to try it, and I really enjoy the exercise and socializing,” said Diane Schmitz, 72, of Waite Park.


Some places to play

There are hundreds of pickleball courts across the midwest, and hundreds more being built this year. Here is what some of the active pickleball clubs and communities are offering:


Paynesville/Richmond/Cold Spring

The Chain of Lakes Paddlers have about 70 active members ranging between 20 and 73. They group plays at the Paynesville Recreation Center, which has 12 indoor courts. They play daily (8:15-11 a.m.), as well as Monday evenings (6-8 p.m.) and Wednesday evenings (6:30-8 p.m.) Club members also play at the ROCORI Community Education Building in Cold Spring (four indoor courts). Schedules vary on these courts, depending on school activities. The group is looking forward to four new outdoor courts to be constructed this fall at Centennial Park in Richmond.

Club contact: Wendell Giese (chainoflakespaddlers@gmail.com)


Hutchinson

The Hutchinson Pickleball Club has about 70 active members ranging in age from 16 to 82. The group plays at the McLeod County Fairgrounds in the winter (10 indoor courts) and the Park Elementary Courts (7 outdoor courts) in the summer, both in Hutchinson. They play both Mondays and Thursdays year round; 8:30 a.m. in the summer and 9 a.m. in the winter. The group is looking to improve the experience outdoors in 2022 -- they are ordering wind curtains for the outdoor courts. Club contact is Marvin Juffer (skjuffer@hutchtel.net)

Holdingford


The Pickleballers of Holdingford Area have 16 active members ranging between ages 15 and 92. Open play is being held at the Holdingford Public School tennis courts where four pickleball courts will be set up on Friday afternoons. The group is still ironing out the schedule, but Sunday afternoons may also be an option for public play. During the winter months, the group plays in the Holdingford High School Intermediate Gym. Club contact is Molly Schnell (mbschnell@gmail.com).


St. Cloud

The group, “Northern Paddlers,” of St. Cloud, has about 140 active members ages 22 to 75, and they play at the Calvary Park (3-6 indoor courts) and the Whitney Recreation Center (3-6 courts indoor). They play from 8-11 a.m. Monday through Friday. The group is currently working with the City of St. Cloud on plans for a second outdoor venue in St. Cloud. For more info on the group, visit stcloudpb.weebly.com. Club contact: Kurt Lemke (northernpaddlers@gmail.com)


Monticello

The Monticello Senior Center pickleball group has about 90 members with about 35 who play regularly. The members range from 55-82 years of age. The group plays Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, from 8 a.m.-11 a.m., at the Monticello Community Center. An evening pickleball time is also being added. The Monticello middle school has six outdoor tennis courts with lines for pickleball, and one elementary school with two outdoor tennis courts with lines for pickleball. The senior center league recently presented a proposal to the Monticello Parks, Arts and Rec board asking for designated outdoor “pickleball only” courts in the community to keep up with the demand. Beginner classes are offered periodically to help more adults learn the sport. Club contact: Pam Loidolt (pam.loidolt@ci.monticello.mn.us)


Waite Park

If you play pickleball in Waite Park, you have likely run into Mr. Pickle. A volunteer built him and he greets players as he enter the courts. Pictured with Mr. Pickle are (L to R) Renie Ogara, Diane Bartz and Diane Schmitz. Contributed photo

Waite Park has about 40-80 daily players at six courts located at the corner of 10th Avenue North and Third Street. The courts have wind screens, an area down the middle with benches and sun umbrellas, and even some picnic tables outside the courts. Courts are open seven days a week from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Mornings are primarily “seniors” playing, and after 4 p.m. is primarily younger people. Times vary with different mixture of ages. Each year during Waite Park Family Fun Fest (June 6-8 p.m.), they have an open house. The open house is designed to have instructors teaching the basic rules. Paddles and balls are provided for anyone wishing to learn and have some play time. A volunteer built “Mr. Pickle,” who welcomes all who enter the courts. Club contact is Diane Bartz (dbartz1022@gmail.com).


Glenwood

The Glenwood Pickleball group has about 45 active members ranging from 45 to 75. The group plays at Glenwood City Park each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. They are currently using temporary courts but will soon be moving to four permanent courts and one temporary court that will be constructed this summer. The courts are being funded by the city of Glenwood, along with business and private donations. Group contact: Steve A. Loen (steve@loenelectric.com or 320-760-7840)


Mankato

The Mankato Area Pickleball Association (MAPA) has 275 active members with ages ranging from 18 to 84. They play at Tourtellotte Park (6 outdoor courts) and various locations (13 indoor courts). The city of Mankato has approved six additional courts to be built this summer, which will give the MAPA 12 dedicated outdoor courts. In addition, a new indoor facility is under construction called “The Picklebarn,” which will add eight modern indoor courts. This facility was nearing completion when this newspaper went to press. Learn more about The Picklebarn at www.picklebarnmn.com.


“Pickleball is growing by leaps and bounds in Mankato,” said John Sandry, president of MAPA. “We are very excited about the growth of pickleball in our area.

A group photo of many of the Mankato Area Pickleball Association members. Contributed photo

In North Mankato, plans are underway to convert the old Shopko building into an indoor sports facility that will include pickleball courts. In addition, North Mankato is “shovel-ready” to build an indoor recreation facility that will include up to 12 indoor pickleball courts (pending passage of bonding bill).

Club contact: John Sandry (pbkato@gmail.com, 507-381-8948)


Litchfield

The Litchfield Pickleball Club has about 50 active members ranging in age from 20 to 80. They have three indoor courts and four outdoor courts. They play every day in the summer, and on a more limited basis in the winter months. They use the TeamReach app for summer play, and it is more relaxed in the winter as many members go south for the winter. About a year and a half ago, the group raised half the cost for four new outdoor courts in Litchfield. Club contact: Homer Christiansen (homdarchr@hotmail.com)


Perham

The Perham pickleball club was organized last May. It has 150 members with members ranging from 12 to 88. The members play five mornings a week in Perham. During late fall through spring they play indoors at the Perham Area Community Center (PACC) from 8-11:30 a.m. During the summer they play outdoors at Arvig Park. The PACC also offers “intro to pickleball” classes and drills Tuesday evenings from fall through spring. There are 12 courts available at PACC. Arvig Park currently has four courts but the group is raising funds and working with the city of Perham to redo the unused outdoor tennis courts into eight permanent dedicated pickleball courts. This project is expected to be finished this summer. Club contact: BJ Peters, stampinbj@gmail.com


We realize not all pickleball groups are represented in this article. We could only print the ones that were submitted to us. If you have some basic information about your pickleball group and would like to add it to our online edition, just send it in by June 15 and we will add it to the article.


Thanks to all those who have submitted information and photos for this article!








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