Pickleball has officially come to Visalia.
On December 13, a grand opening ceremony was held at Recreation Park, 345 N. Jacob St. in Visalia, to cut the ribbon on Visalia Parks and Recreation Department’s new pickleball courts.
“I think it’s a good sport for the community,” said Visalia Vice Mayor Warren Gubler, one of the main pickleball proponents. “I’ve been pushing for senior Olympics and I think this is one of the sports that would be part of it.”
He added that he first saw pickleball courts when he visited his parents in St. George, Utah, and “the eight courts there are always packed.”
“It’s a great sport of primary interest to seniors but can be played by anyone,” said Visalia City Manager Mike Olmos. “We see this as a great sports trend and we wanted to respond to it.”
He added that this is “the first facility dedicated to pickleball in the city.”
Up until this grand opening, local pickleball players had to use chalk to mark tennis courts, according to Ken Robison, who introduced himself as the ambassador for pickleball in the Valley.
Pickleball, which has been described as “a combination of table tennis, tennis and badminton,” uses a kind of Wiffle Ball and a paddle that looks like a large table tennis paddle. The rules of pickleball are similar to those of tennis or ping pong.
There are a few differences, however, such as not being allowed close to the net except to return a ball hit there by your opponents.
Three U.S. congressmen, Joel Pritchard, William Bell and Barney McCallum, are credited with inventing the sport in 1965 in Bainbridge Island, Washington, as a way to keep their kids occupied that summer. They originally used table tennis paddles and a Wiffle Ball, and lowered the net on their badminton court. Neighbors, friends and others started playing, and as the sport grew in popularity, players were designing paddles more appropriate for the new sport.
Robison said that a lot of pickleball players are former tennis players.
“A lot of us are baby boomers,” he said. “Tennis requires a lot of running, but you don’t have to run in pickleball. There are no volleys in front of the net.”
“It’s a great sport,” said Dan Fox, Visalia’s pickleball coach, who gained that official title because he has been the city parks and recreation department’s tennis coach and ping pong coach. “It’s easy to learn, and somewhat senior-based. Seniors can play it and it’s competitive. In one or two evenings, someone can learn it and be competitive. It was the hit of the (city’s) corporate games two years in a row.”
Gubler, who wore tennis shoes for the ceremony so he would be prepared to play pickleball after, said that he bought his wife pickleball paddles and balls for Christmas, and plans to spend holiday time on the court.
Dan Veyna, principal at Sierra Designs Inc. Landscape Architecture, designed the courts. He was asked what it takes to create a pickleball court.
“You have to first decide what quality of court you want,” he said. “You can’t just paint lines on asphalt. What’s unique about this court is its post-tension slab, with cables every 24 inches. There are no seams. That allows the ball to not hit any joints.
“It won’t crack either,” he continued. “It’s compressed in every direction. It will expand and contract slightly. Under the concrete is a double layer of thick plastic. That causes the court to ‘float’ as it expands and contracts.”
The city is considering using the pickleball courts to teach tennis to 5 to 7-year-olds, according to Fox.
That is, of course, if they can pry the pickleball players off the court that long.