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Shoreview courts pickleballers with new facilities as game booms
At not quite 9 a.m., all six of the week-old pickleball courts at Bobby Theisen Park in Shoreview were occupied by foursomes, pickleballs pinging back and forth, with spectators and idle players watching attentively and waiting anxiously to get back on court. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was to start in a matter of minutes, but most seemed more interested in the game at hand.
Shoreview held a brief ceremony at the courts the morning of July 9, on what Mayor Sandy Martin called “a good day to play pickleball.” The ceremony marked a culmination of community enthusiasm for the sport and an organized show of need.
Good days to play pickleball are becoming more plentiful, as the sport—an amalgamation of ping pong and tennis with a little badminton thrown in—has reached new heights of popularity barely seen in its near 50-year history.
Played with wooden or composite paddles and a ball similar to a wiffle ball, on a court smaller than but similar to one used for tennis, pickleball is played by men and women of all ages, but, as evidenced by the folks at Bobby Theisen Park, the sport has become a favorite with the Boomer crowd.
According to the USA Pickleball Association, the 9-year-old governing body of the sport, there are 150,000 pickleball players in North America and some 43.5 new places to play spring up somewhere each month.
By Martin’s estimation, almost 60 pickleballers showed up for the ribbon cutting at the new Shoreview place to play at the two tennis courts that were converted into six freshly resurfaced pickleball courts, painted accordingly with new lines and with permanent posts for the nets.
“This is probably the nicest pickleball court in the metro area,” Martin said prior to the ribbon cutting, adding later, “I had no idea there’d be so many people. This is great.”
John Malmgren, president of the Shoreview Area Pickleball Club, said he found his way onto the pickleball court a few years back with the help of his girlfriend at the time and the Woodbury activity catalog.
The two played together for a time, though when the girlfriend, Malmgren’s high school sweetheart with whom he’d reconnected, got injured and had to take some time off from the sport, Malmgren said he just kept on playing.
“I was hooked,” he said, adding that he had very little experience with racquet sports.
The two have since gone their separate ways—a “friendly departing over pickleball,” Malmgren said—though he has stuck with the sport, turning an email list used to organize games into the pickleball club (the formation of which made Malmgren de facto president; he’s since been democratically reelected) and progressing the state of facilities in Shoreview from some part-time courts near the Community Center to the brand-new, pickleball-specific complex at Bobby Theisen.
Shoreview City Manager Terry Schwerm said Bobby Theisen’s courts, four tennis courts, not that long ago, were due for an overhaul. The city used the opportunity to support the city’s bustling pickleball scene, after it made its presence known at city council meetings.
At a price tag of roughly $60,000, all the courts at the park were reconstructed; Schwerm said $25,000 of that overall cost was spent specifically on pickleball.
Other cities have taken note of the sport’s emergence as well: Oakdale supports pickleball six days a week during the summer, having lined an outdoor hockey rink in Richard Walton Park for the sport, and allows players to store equipment in the rink’s warming house.
Chuck Scott, who described himself as “not a natural athlete” became involved in pickleball at his wife’s urging. He organizes the games at Richard Walton Park through the Oakdale Pickleball Club.
Scott said the club, with its 50 or so members, is mostly comprised of retirees, men and women, but is varied enough to include some folks in their early 20’s and 30’s, as well as a grade school aged girl.
“[Oakdale is] very supportive, and the primary reason is because the cost is so low,” Scott said.
Compared to other area clubs, Scott said, members of the Oakdale Pickleball Club come together not for competition, but for fun.
“We’re more the folks that get together because we enjoy it,” he said.
At Bobby Theisen Park, plenty of people sung their own praise for the game.
“I can’t believe how fun this is,” Bob Hamper, a decades-long tennis player said, adding that while pickleball is often “tabbed as a senior game,” it’s great for people of all ages, mostly because it’s such an accessible sport.
“It’s a lot easier to get proficient at the game,” Hamper said, explaining that, for instance, there’s a much smaller margin of error with tennis, compared to pickleball.
Suzanne Jenkins extolled pickleball’s virtues as an almost therapeutic activity.
“We have people with Parkinson’s [disease] playing,” Jenkins said, adding that people who were socially isolated or in poor health benefited from being on the court.
“All of a sudden they start playing and they open up,” she said.
Malmgren said he runs a training session at the Shoreview Community Center on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays called the “Learner Social Group,” from 9 to 11 a.m., which focuses on getting people together and focusing on the community aspects of pickleball, as the group’s name denotes.
He described it as a group for people who have “been around too many years to compete here,” meaning at the Bobby Theisen courts.
At least one Learner Social Group alum made it out to the ribbon cutting; Mary Fignar said she’d been playing pickleball all summer, drawn to it by its community aspects, though she made it clear that she simply enjoyed the game.
“It’s been so fun with the new courts and so many players,” Fignar said, noting that she used to be play volleyball, but hadn’t played in years, while predicting she would play pickleball for some time.
“I’ll continue, I purchased my own paddle,” Fignar said before jumping into another game. “I’m a little bit invested.”
Mike Munzenrider can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.
Join a local pickleball club
The cost to join the Shoreview Area Pickleball Club is $15. Register online at www.shoreviewmn.gov following links to community center programs. Bobby Theisen Park is located at 3575 Vivian Ave. in Shoreview.
The cost to join the Oakdale Pickleball Club is $10. Contact Chuck Scott at 651-439-5307 for more information. Richard Walton Park is located at 1584 Hadley Ave. in Oakdale.