A group of people play pickleball at the Sterling Community Center.

A group of people play pickleball at the Sterling Community Center.

Having a ball: Pickleball grows in popularity on peninsula

  • By IAN FOLEY
  • Thursday, December 11, 2014 3:13pm
  • News

Despite its funny name, pickleball is getting serious attention around the Kenai Peninsula.

In Sterling, Nikiski and Kenai, more and more people are participating in what NBC Nightly News calls “one of America’s fastest growing sports.”

Invented in 1965, pickleball is a combination of several racquet sports. It is played on a badminton-sized court with nets standing at 36 inches high, and requires special paddles similar to those used to play ping-pong — only larger — and a ball similar to a Whiffleball.

To play, a player serves the ball underhand over a net to an opponent, who must allow the ball to bounce before returning the serve. This process continues until there is a fault. The game can be played one-on-one or in pairs.

Last June, the Sterling Community Center started organizing pickleball events, said Lynn Lockner, who works for the Americorps VISTA program and helps the Sterling Community Center come up with events and programs. Pickleball proved to be so popular that events are now held biweekly — Mondays from 1-3 p.m. and Thursdays from 6-8 p.m.

“Pickleball is very beneficial,” said Rochelle Hanson, an administrative assistant at the Sterling Community Center. “It’s low key and low impact. It’s enjoyable and relaxing, but at the same time, it allows you to get out of the house and break the cabin fever. In Alaska, you have to get out.”

The Sterling Community Center has three courts available, and they are often all occupied, said Hanson.

Cathy Wallace, who plays at the Sterling Community Center, enjoys the sport for a variety of reasons.

“It gets me out of the house and I can socialize with people,” she said. “It’s fun.”

Sally Tachick, who also plays in Sterling, attributes pickleball’s popularity to how accessible the sport is.

“It’s pretty popular in the 55-and-older communities in the Lower 48, because everyone can play,” Tachick said. “Your skill level doesn’t matter. It’s fun and it’s exercise.

Pickleball is also becoming popular in Nikiski.

Tammy Berdahl, the Recreation Supervisor at the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area, said there have been several inquiries about pickleball in recent months. The increase in interest has lead to the NPRSA offering pickleball open-gyms on Wednesday afternoons starting in January.

While pickleball is suitable for people of all skill levels, Berdahl notes that the sport is a great way to reach out to older adults in the community. She warns, however, that pickleballers can be a rowdy group.

Tony Travers, a supervisor at the Kenai Recreational Center, said that having pickleball in Kenai could be possible.

“If someone wanted to have a weekly (event), they would have to have the equipment for it,” Travers said. “The process would be to see if we have space and time for it. We would then have to get it approved from upper-management.”

While there are several theories about the origin of the name, none of which include fermented cucumbers, one thing is clear — pickleball’s popularity is on the rise, especially on the Kenai Peninsula.

For more information about pickleball, go to: http://www.usapa.org.

Reach Ian Foley at ian.foley@peninsulaclarion.com.

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