Over the past five years, a sport that many people still have never heard of has seen a giant soar in popularity: pickleball.
Pickleball dates back to 1965, and since then has gained traction from its birthplace on Bainbridge Island, Washington to Australia.
If you’ve driven down Main Street in Cottage Grove, you’re sure to have seen a large group playing what looks like a life-size game of ping pong.
Christine Payne, a board of directors member of Emerald Valley Pickleball Club, excitedly shared that this group is diverse in both skill and age.
“We have enough players we can divide into skill level groups from beginner to highly skilled,” she said. “Also we’re seeing a large increase of younger members playing at our courts in Springfield and West Eugene. While seeing some small increases in younger members here in Cottage Grove. With the majority of our members still being 65 or older.”
A pickleball court is much smaller than a normal tennis court with dimensions of 44 feet in length and 20 feet wide, compared to tennis courts being 78 feet in length and 36 feet in width, it allows an opportunity for the retired communities to participate in a game very similar to tennis with less running and still get an effective workout.
Pickleball saw its recent rise in popularity start in the southern states and has started to pick up significant steam with the younger crowds as another form of serious competition throughout the world.
With the Summer Olympics this year (after the delay due to COVID-19) the International Olympic Committee (IOC) added new sports such as surfing, baseball, softball and karate. Communities soon became curious if they’d see pickleball in the near future.
The short answer? Possibly. But according to the IOC, to be eligible to play in the Olympics, a new potential sport has to reach an international presence that spans across 75 countries in 4 continents. Pickleball has doubled its international presence in the last 18 months, currently in 37 countries, and saw a 21.6 percent increase in participation through the pandemic. Seeing this sport in upcoming Olympics isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
Locally, pickleball grows by word of mouth and watching players in action. Payne mentioned that she got started from viewing a demonstration at a summer festival.
“This is my sixth year playing and how I got started was when they did a demonstration at Bohemia Mining Days that year (2015),” she said. “Back then they had about eight members and now we have more than 60; and have seen an increase in numbers every year.”
As these numbers continue to grow through the Cottage Grove, Eugene and Springfield areas, the sport is gradually earning a spot for itself in the mainstream.
Those curious about the game of pickleball can simply drop by a morning of play as everyone is welcome. The group plays on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 9 a.m. at the Coiner Park courts and there are courts at the Riverside Church used in the winter season.
Payne extended a sincere thank you to the City of Cottage Grove for putting in the courts and investing in their quality in order to see continued growth in both the local numbers and court locations.
With growing interest in the sport from the community, there could be a “Learn to Play” clinic later this summer which would allow more visibility to the already engaged club.
Those interested are invited to reach out to [email protected] for more information.
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