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Tennis-like sport, which is especially popular among seniors, has taken off since its introduction last year



REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Kerin Larson returns a serve during a recent match in George Rogers Park, where the Lake Oswego Pickleball Club hosts regular play sessions.REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Vince Arditi of Lake Oswego competes in pickleball, which is similar to tennis but played on a smaller court with solid paddles and lighter balls.A little over a year ago, a group of local residents formed the Lake Oswego Pickleball Club and began campaigning for the Parks & Recreation Department to allow the game to be played at the tennis courts in George Rogers Park.

The group won its first victory when the department added pickleball striping to the courts last summer, and the club hosted its first organized play in September. The kickoff event was well-attended, according to club co-president Carl Schmits.

But the question still remained: Would pickleball be able to find a permanent player base in Lake Oswego? Based on the scene at George Rogers Park during the club’s weekly game sessions, it’s safe to say that the answer is a resounding yes.

The Lake Oswego Pickleball Club now hosts organized play sessions three or four times per week at the George Rogers courts, and maintains a permanent storage bin onsite to house the nets and other gear. Several dozen people attend each event, and organizers say the club’s membership continues to expand.

“It’s been growing very well, even through the indoor seasons,” says Schmits. “This is great organic growth right here in our backyard — there’s a zeal among old players to bring new players in.”

Pickleball uses a similar scoring system to tennis, but it’s played on a smaller court with a lower net. The paddles are solid instead of mesh, and the balls are considerably lighter than tennis balls — though still solid enough to stay on track through long back-and-forth volleys.

The game has been around for decades, but in the last couple of years it has begun to enjoy an unprecedented rise in popularity — both in Lake Oswego and throughout the country.

“It’s a 50-year overnight success,” Schmits says.

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Johnny Fong concentrates as he hits a return during a recent pickleball match. The game requires less mobility than tennis.REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Jane Schmits of Lake Oswego gets the pickleball net ready for play at one of the Lake Oswego Pickleball Club's bimonthly potluck events.Club member Thomas Widden attributes a large part of pickleball’s success to the lower mobility needed to play on the smaller courts. Unlike tennis, the game requires relatively little dashing and diving to return serves, which makes it a safer sport for older players.

“When you get to be 60, 70 or so, you’re not as agile as you used to be — one stumble and you’re out of the game,” says Widden. “(With pickleball), you don’t have to move around too much. You can play pretty well with shuffling from side to side.”

At the same time, says Schmits, the game can still be quite competitive, and seniors can easily transition to it from tennis and other sports.

“It makes use of the racquet skills I’ve built all my life,” Schmits says.

Pickleball courts are only about a quarter of the size of tennis courts, so a single regulation tennis court can be “double striped” for two or more pickleball courts without losing the original tennis court lines and net. And the pickleball nets are small enough that they can be set up using freestanding poles that can be taken down after each game, allowing the two racquet sports to share court space.

“It takes an unused and neglected resource and repurposes it to bring out the biggest demographic group in the U.S. — baby boomers,” says Widden. “That’s a big part of the pickleball story.”

Widden was one of the key advocates who helped get pickleball started in Lake Oswego, but his efforts didn’t stop with his hometown. He now serves as a district ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association, traveling to various cities around western Washington and Oregon to help with initiatives to repurpose old tennis courts and start pickleball groups.

“My phone rings all day long from places all over the U.S., wanting to know where to play,” he says.

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Minnie Young does a little warm-up drill before playing pickleball at the tennis courts in George Rogers Park.Sometimes, the campaigns can get creative. In Lake Oswego, for example, Widden realized that the George Rogers Park tennis courts would be a good fit for pickleball because they weren’t as heavily used as others in the city. He says he viewed pickleball as a good way to get more mileage out of the courts and prevent them from falling into disrepair.

“If somebody’s not using a place, they (Parks & Rec) don’t spend a lot of money to maintain it,” he says. “(And) good tennis players like to play indoors anyway.”

But he says the parks department was initially reluctant to decrease the courts’ availability for tennis. So Widden, who was working for Comcast at the time, used spare modem and camera equipment to monitor the courts for 40 days. He says he was able to show the parks department that only a dozen people used the courts for tennis during that time period.

The club supplied all the nets and equipment and will raise the funding for subsequent court restriping. And when the weather started to prohibit outdoor play during the winter, the group began renting space in the Palisades building. More recently, Widden says the club has also offered to pay for patching and repair to the George Rogers Park courts.

“Pickleball hasn’t cost Lake Oswego Parks & Recreation one penny,” Widden says proudly.

The club’s sessions are now a well-established event at George Rogers Park, and they continue to draw in new community members. Club membership is $20 per year, and the club also sells paddles and other equipment that can be hard to find at big sporting goods stores.

But Schmits and Widden say the most important thing the club can do is simply convince newcomers to pick up a paddle and give the game a shot.

“We encourage people to drop in and try it out before they join the club,” Schmits says. “It’s really a welcoming community.”

Widden retired from Comcast two years ago and now stays busy as the full-time district ambassador. But he’s also still campaigning for pickleball in his hometown: He now serves on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board in order to bring more attention to the sport in Lake Oswego.

“In the first year, you prove yourself,” he says. “Then in the second, you start trying to get on budgets.”

Contact Anthony Macuk at 503-636-1281 ext. 108 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..