BY ORLANDO DELANO
Special to the News
Until recently the word pickleball was not known in the sports lexicon, and for that matter, not mentioned in dictionaries or encyclopedias. Well, things are rapidly changing in the world of sports. “What a fun sport this is,” says Edilia, an enthusiastic player. “My husband and I recently went on a cruise trip overseas and one of the first sport activities they offered us was to play pickleball. It was fun,” she adds.
Today thousands of people of all ages are enjoying the practice of this game which is steadily growing internationally. Here in Port Alberni dozens of practitioners enjoy this trendy sport, as people of various ages, especially seniors, take part in the game which is played as doubles or singles.
Pickleball is a fun indoor or outdoor sport that combines many elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, using a wooden or hard plastic paddle and a plastic ball with holes.
“The goal of our club is to keep seniors active physically, mentally and socially and pickleball is one of the activities that provides all of these things,” says Larry Brechin, from the Echo Sunshine Club Pickleball Group. Back in 2015, the Sunshine Club, in conjunction with Port Alberni’s Parks and Recreation and Heritage Department, received a New Horizons’ grant to build a free standing pickleball court at Gyro Recreation Park. It was great news for the pickleball players. Soon after, Glenwood Centre became the site for the indoor practice of the sport during the winter months.
“Currently, there are 44 regular pickleball players enjoying the sport Monday evenings from 7-9 p.m. and Wednesday and Friday mornings from 9–11 a.m. at Glenwood, and new members welcomed,” adds Brechin.
“In April of 2013 a number of us returning from Arizona and California with our new pickleball paddles and our newfound love of this unique sport starting looking around for places to play.”, says Ron Crema, from the PA Picklers. The enthusiastic group started playing at Cougar Smith Park on two courts on Faber Road.
In 2014, after an increasing number of players interested in the new sport joined in, more sites were explored, including abandoned school and halls tennis courts. The interest was growing not only locally but all over the Island.
Crema recalls that around 2015 presentations were made to several community groups including the City (Parks and Rec) and the ACRD with hopes of educating those unfamiliar with the sport and perhaps planting the seed for some support. He adds that by that time, the Sunshine Club were successful in a grant to build a dedicated court at the Gyro complex but those involved in the explosive growth of the sport knew that one court would not make it in the long run. With a growing number of pickleball enthusiasts returning from their southern winter getaways came a growing demand for facilities.
Those remaining in Port for the winter months rented a school gym. Those at Sproat Lake made a concerted effort to revive the old Sproat Lake Community Hall and outdoor tennis courts and the Sunshine Club rented the Glenwood Centre. The outside dimensions for doubles badminton pretty much lined up with the lines for pickleball with one small adjustment. It appeared as if all groups in town and the rural areas were finding ways to the facilities required to keep this healthy life sport alive in the north.
Slammers Gym on Sixth Avenue in Port Alberni had invested time and money exploring the idea of a multi-use facility and eventually built a large outdoor court. Unfortunately this area could not gain the necessary traction needed to build a club around and alternatives were explored. Archie Cardinal was a huge supporter of the concept and quite excited about the potential. Appreciation was expressed to him for his generosity and support.
In the meantime, the City of Port Alberni agreed to paint pickleball lines on a tennis court accommodating four pickleball courts in the same general facility as the dedicated court. This move by the city was very positively received by all those involved. In 2017 Parks and Rec, with the help of several community sports groups, applied for and received a substantial grant for the Gyro Rec Centre with a commitment to resurface the lacrosse courts and paint pickleball lines for use by the Sunshine Club and the PA Picklers with coordination through Parks and Rec. Members of both groups (both registered with the Societies Act) were instrumental in their support for the grant that was subsequently received giving both groups an opportunity to play on refurbished courts with dedicated pickleball lines.
The PA Picklers membership, from teenagers to seniors, reach dozens. In the winter months they play at the Athletic Hall four mornings a week and at Alberni Elementary School on Monday and Thursday evenings.