Makayla Khamduang recalls taking a look at the new tennis courts at Riverside Park’s new outdoor fitness center on Thursday. The only problem: the courts are not for tennis.
“I saw it and thought it was supposed to be tennis,” Khamduang said. “Then I found out it was pickleball. I wanted to give it a try.”
Logansport pickleball fans announced the opening of the first outdoor pickleball courts throughout the county during Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony. Pickleball, a combination of tennis, ping pong and racquetball, has grown in popularity locally and across the country in recent years.
Prior to outdoor courts, pickleball players were restricted to morning play when the Cass County Family YMCA courts were set aside specifically for the sport. People with early jobs struggled to find time to play.
“Pickleball has been hidden inside the YMCA for many years,” said Richard Dexter, who has been playing pickleball at Logansport for eight or nine years. “Y members have been playing it for many, many years, and this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to show it to the general public in Cass County. We are happy with that because we believe that as soon as the public can see and play it, it will expand and Logansport will have a chance to add a few more courts.
Logansport Parks Manager Jan Fawley said local pickleball players have been asking for outdoor courts for a few years. She said Riverside Park’s new outdoor fitness center is the perfect location for the courts, as they’re located in a more adult-only area of the park, farther from children’s play equipment.
“I know people playing need more pitches,” she said. “I would love to do more courts at some point, but it’s a start.”
Fawley mentioned the idea of possibly building an eight- or 12-court complex that would give more space for pickleball players and could potentially host tournaments. She said that might be an option for Houston Park at some point in the future.
Like many other areas across the country, Pickleball has a loyal following in Cass County and seems to be growing in popularity.
Dexter estimated that there are at least 30 people who regularly play pickleball at the YMCA. Logansport resident and pickleball player Steve Clary said he thinks that number could be closer to 60 or 75.
“He’s grown a lot over the last four or five years,” Clary said. “I’m relatively new. I only started playing in October, but that’s why I play five or six times a week to try to catch up.
Clary first played pickleball about four years ago. At that time, he knew eight or nine people who played regularly. He had to stop playing because he worked in the morning, but he recently got back into sports.
Clary said the outdoor courts will be harder to play than the indoor courts at the YMCA due to wind and weather conditions, but he’s up for the challenge. The sport was invented on an outdoor badminton court, after all.
Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island by Washington State Congressman Joel Pritchard and his friend Bill Bell. According to the USA Pickleball Association, the two invented the game to entertain their bored children.
Pritchard and Bell centered the game around a badminton court on the property, but they had no badminton equipment. Instead, they used ping pong paddles, the badminton net and a whistling ball to create a new game. Pritchard, Bell and their friend Barney McCallum decided the rules of the game the following weekend.
Pritchard’s wife, Joan, is said to have named pickleball after her. She was inspired by the “pickle boat” competitions featuring the team’s non-runners that would take place after her college’s main crew races.
The game slowly grew in popularity as more people learned about it. The USA Pickleball Association first surpassed 10,000 members in 2015. By the end of 2021, the USA Pickleball Association had over 50,000 members.
Clary encourages people in the community to try pickleball. He said it takes a lot of practice to improve, but it’s satisfying when you see progress.
“Don’t be afraid to try something new,” he says. “Don’t be intimidated by other players. It’s fine to watch top players to see how they play, but again, don’t be intimidated. Go out and try to find people who are somewhat on your level – and there are plenty out there – and practice, practice, practice. Do not be discouraged.
Khamduang was excited when she and her boyfriend were invited to play with another group, but said she found it hard to catch on quickly because learning the game and differentiating the rules of tennis was confusing and frustrating at times.
“It’s not the same as tennis, but they look alike,” she said. “Some people think pickleball is like tennis, but it’s really not.”
Either way, Khamduang said she would love to perform again.
Pickleball is played similarly to tennis in some ways, but it has its own set of rules and standards separate from the other sport.
One of the main differences is the paddles. Pickleballers carry medium-sized paddles that look more like large ping pong paddles than tennis rackets. In addition, all serves must be underhand and teams can only score when serving.
Another difference between the two sports is the non-volley zone on pickleball courts, otherwise known as “the kitchen”.
“You can’t steal the ball in that area,” Dexter said. “You can hit it in there, but you can’t do it on the fly. We call it the kitchen because if you go there to get a groundstroke if someone gently puts it over the net, you have to go there and dig it. Get out of the kitchen because the next bullet might come through the air. If you’re in there and you hit (the ball while it) is still in the air, it’s a foul.
As in tennis, the ball must always remain in the court. Pickleball also maintains the double bounce rule which requires the ball to bounce at least once on each side before it can be stolen.
Both Clary and Dexter said pickleball is a great activity that anyone can participate in. Clary spent over $100 on a new paddle, but Dexter said new players can purchase paddles for $15 to $20. For a good recreational paddle, Dexter recommends people pay between $35 and $50.
“People should know this is a great activity,” Dexter said. “You can get your heart rate up, sweat a little, and have fun doing it.”