Effort Launched For Los Alamos To Catch Pickleball Fever

A group of pickleball players enjoy the game Saturday. Pictured here are: Back Row, from left: Mary and Phil Stroud, John Charles, Steve Koch and front row, from left: Lem and Mary ONeal, Andy and Barb Yeamans, Mary Dugan, Bob Stewart Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com

Los Alamos Daily Post

Pickleball has a unique origin story. According to usapickleball.org, it involves a U.S. Congressman, a businessman, a group of people looking for something to do and a random assortment of sports equipment.

The website reports that in 1965 U.S. Congressman Joel Pritchard and his friend and businessman Bill Bell discovered their families sitting at Pritchard’s house, struggling to find something to do. So, the two men collected ping-pong paddles, a perforated plastic ball and went to an old badminton court.

What happened next was the birth of pickleball. The origins of the sport’s name are debated. Some believe it was name after the founder’s dog and others say it was named for its paddles, which make a motion similar to oars in an ancient merchant ship.

The sport has since taken off. Los Alamos resident and USA Pickleball Association Ambassador Lem ONeal said pickleball is being nationally reported as the fastest growing sport in the U.S. for the last two years.

New Mexico has had an influx of players; he noted in Albuquerque there are more than 1,000 club members and 18 courts at its outdoor tournament facility. Another 14 courts have been approved to be constructed due to successful returns on investment back to the community from the initial tournament facility.

ONeal said the hope is to bring the pickleball fever and a similar return on investment to Los Alamos.

“Los Alamos is still a ‘secret city’ for pickleball,” he said.

There are no public courts specifically for the game and thus no internet presence often looked for by potential future residents and visitors to a community, ONeal said.

In response, ONeal said approximately 50 local pickleball players have found out about the joy in pickleball on their own. They have been meeting in groups, bringing their own nets, temporarily taping courts, and playing when facilities can be found available since before 2017.

Additionally, the Los Alamos County Community Services Department provided the means to turn the tennis courts on Myrtle Street into a temporary pickleball court. Community Services Department Director Cory Styron said tape was placed on the court to map out a pickleball court. Players also were given additional tape to patch up the court and supplied a net.

ONeal said he hopes there will be an opportunity for the County to do more, such as larger dedicated facilities suitable for local play and tournaments.

State of the art facilities include shade and wind sheltering, cushioned surfaces, lights and restrooms. Tournament capable state of the art facilities are providing communities across the nation with positive returns on investments. As an example, he said the Opelika Pickleball in Opelika, Ala., has 24 covered courts that are open 24/7, are free to the community and draw regional tournaments.

Styron pointed out that the Community Services Department is conducting a survey, which runs through May 18, to develop its Integrated Community Services Master Plan. It’s an opportunity for the local pickleball community to weigh in on what the County can provide for it.

Styron encourages people to take part in the survey.

“By completing the online survey now through May 18 you are helping us have a 7-10 year plan on services, amenities that can improve our quality of life and economic growth with people coming up and utilizing our unique venues,” he said.

Here is the link to the survey: www.LosAlamosSurvey.com/Open.

Styron added the survey is a chance to voice support for the local pickleball scene and other community service programs, services and facilities.

“Pickleball is a growing sport with the +50 crowd,” he said. “It is a good way to get out and get active, but we just have to evaluate it with all our competing interests in the community.”

Another way to support the local pickleball effort is to come out and play.

ONeal described the sport similar to ping-pong on steroids, where players are standing on the table, and the table is 44 feet long. It is also comparable to tennis except six pickleball courts can be designed to fit in a space the size of two tennis courts. The number of people who can enjoy a similar sized facility is essentially tripled.

“It’s played similar to tennis,” he said. “The difference is that it (pickleball) is low impact and played on a smaller court. It is less stressful on the body, and it is easier to play. Pickleball has an underhand only service rule, a kitchen (non-volley) zone 7 feet from the net, and requires two bounces before return of serve. All this is designed to make it fun, where everyone can play, but it can still be competitive. You need enough available courts so people of similar skills can enjoy playing together.”

People who have never played sports before find they can play pickleball and enjoy it. It’s a great sport where participants don’t have to have reservations or prior experience. First time players are always welcome in Los Alamos, ONeal added.

It is “a life-long sport that anyone can play, and you can take it to the level you desire,” he said.

It is also a sport that is played amongst friends. During a game played Saturday morning at a local church, players laughed, complimented each other’s moves and were very happy to help a novice out.

One player, Steve Koch, explained the relaxed, friendly atmosphere is one of the reasons why he enjoys the game so much.

“I enjoy pickleball for three reasons,” he said. “One, it is a very social sport. You get to spend time hanging out with a lot of friendly people. Two, it’s great exercise … and three, it is a pretty easy sport to learn.”

To learn more or find out about local pickleball games, call ONeal at 912.220.8901 or email picklesav@att.net.

Pickleball players show off their skills Saturday. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com

Pickleball players show off their skills Saturday. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com


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