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Cottonwood Heights Journal

More courts on the way as pickleball surges in popularity

Aug 17, 2018 01:36PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Mayor Mike Peterson returning a serve during a game of pickleball in Cottonwood Heights. (Joshua Wood/City Journals)

By Joshua Wood | [email protected]

A relatively new pastime has taken off in communities throughout the Wasatch Front. In fact, pickleball has grown so much in popularity that the Cottonwood Heights Recreation Center is putting in more courts to accommodate crowds of players. 

“It’s a fun game and one that everybody can play,” said Mike Walterscheid as he waited for his next game. “You pick it up quickly. Anybody can show up. It gives you a chance to play a lot of different people.” 

On a weekday morning in August, a dozen or so people stand outside the pickleball courts behind the rec center waiting for their turn to play. Within the fences, three games — each involving doubles teams — see the yellow pickleball fly back and forth over the net. The crack of the paddles striking each ball serves as the background for each conversation outside. 

Among those playing is Cottonwood Heights Mayor Mike Peterson. “About six years ago at the Utah Parks and Recreation Association conference in St. George, they had a pickleball professional introduce the game,” Peterson said. “I brought it back and started it here indoors for about three months, and no one wanted to play.” 

During a later visit to St. George, Peterson saw a new pickleball complex and decided to give it another try. “I tried it again about four years ago and put up two nets in our gymnasium, and all of a sudden it went nuts. The word was out.” 

Pickleball isn’t just new to the Salt Lake Valley. It is a relatively new game altogether. It was invented in 1965 by Joel Pritchard and two friends, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum, in Washington State. They had returned from a game of golf to find their families bored on a Saturday afternoon. A game of badminton was proposed, but when a shuttlecock couldn’t be found, they decided to improvise. They lowered the net, grabbed a whiffle ball, and constructed paddles out of some spare plywood. The USA Pickleball Association stated that the game may have been named after the Pritchards’s dog, Pickles, while Joel Pritchard’s wife, Joan, said the game got its name because it reminded her of a pickle boat, with its crew composed of the leftovers from other boats.

From those whimsical origins comes a game that has spread throughout the country with millions of players. The game’s accessibility draws people to it. “It’s a game you can learn in an hour and be competitive in an hour,” Peterson said. “Now you’ll see these young kids playing with the older guys. We have people from 12 to 90 right here at this site.”

People of varying backgrounds and age ranges are also drawn to the game. Some have played tennis and look for something else to play as they get older or return from injury. Others are drawn by the game’s apparent popularity. 

“I played tennis for a long time and it just looked like something new and fun to try,” said Steffie Williams as she took a break from a game. “My daughter goes to middle school here, and every morning I dropped her off it was packed, so it had to be pretty fun, right?” 

Her partner on the court that day began playing earlier this year. “I play with a couple friends from work,” said Mike Kannenberg. “They play every day now, five times a week. They play tournaments. They are so in love with the game — I mean, they are all in.”

Kannenberg said he can play the game despite past injuries. “I had my ACL torn three times, and I still can play,” he said. “I think everyone can play.”

As the crowds gather each morning and teams wait for their turn on the courts, anyone can show up and take part.

“It has taken off,” Peterson said. “Every morning you will see a group here. We have three more courts coming this fall.” As he said those words, Peterson turned to head back to the court for his next game.