Vigor in the Valley

Local pickleball club is 200 strong

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Photo by Chippewa Valley Pickleball Club

Pickleball was born on an island near Seatle in 1965, according to the USAPA’s website. The game originated as a backyard activity created by three fathers. There are several accounts as to why the game is called “pickleball.” One claims that a family’s cocker spaniel, named “Pickles,” used to chase after the wiffle ball.

“PHUNK.” My paddle makes contact with the ball, sending it rainbowing over the net and into my opponent’s territory. I realize too late I’ve made a mistake: Hitting the ball high into the air puts the other player in the perfect position to slam the ball down. As he draws back his arm, I try and back peddle deeper into the court. I’ve moved too late. The ball ricochets off the pavement behind me and into the brush.

My dad: 1

Me: 0

This is pickleball. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with the bar on Water Street. It’s actually a game I would describe as life-size table tennis. To play pickleball one needs a large wooden paddle, a wiffle ball, a net and a space about half the size of a tennis court.

Back in Beloit — my hometown — my dad, brothers and I would play pickleball in our driveway. Our ratty net was held up by step ladders, and our court’s boundaries were marked by cracks in the pavement.

I used to believe pickleball was a sport solely played in Florida retirement home communities and in certain driveways in southern Wisconsin. Then I moved to Eau Claire, home of the Chippewa Valley Pickleball Club and 12 brand-spanking-new pickleball courts.

Dan Doering, a member of the Pickleball Club and United States of America Pickleball Association (USAPA) ambassador for the Eau Claire region, proved my former belief wrong.

Originally the only USAPA ambassador in Western Wisconsin, Doering is now one of five.

“USAPA is reorganizing the state of Wisconsin to have more district Ambassadors and more local ambassadors to handle the rapid growth of this sport,” Doering said. “Pickleball is considered the fastest growing sport in the country.”

Indeed, the Pickleball Club is 200 members strong. Players come from Hudson, River Falls, Menomonie, Chippewa Falls, Whitehall and Wausau weekly to practice. The team raised over $120,000 to build the 12 courts at McDonough Park and recently held a 79-team tournament, their largest to date.

I asked Doering a couple questions to find out more about this up-and-coming sport.

How long have you been playing pickleball? How did you start?

“I’ve been playing pickleball for five years.  I learned how to play the game at South Middle School in a clinic sponsored by the Eau Claire Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department. Many  schools in our area are now including pickleball as part of their phy-ed programs.”

Why do you like to play pickleball?

“I enjoy the social and physical aspects of the game.  The game itself is easy to learn how to play and challenging to learn the skills to play it at a high level.  The exercise level is a good workout without feeling that one has overdone it, usually. “

What’s the best  way to get into the sport?

“The Eau Claire Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department and the Chippewa Valley Pickleball Club offers clinics throughout the year at our outdoor and indoor locations.  We currently are playing at McDonough Park and offer clinics on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Groups can contact us via our website to setup lessons as well.”

How is the sport accessible for everyone?

“The age range of our current players is six to 80.  While seniors are our largest population, we have had a large group of 15 to 25 year old players participate regularly, especially in tournaments.”

What separates the Chippewa Valley Pickleball Club from other area pickleball clubs?

“We are the only pickleball club in our area. While other communities have added pickleball courts like Menonomie, Chippewa Falls, Altoona, Lake Hallie and Osseo, we are the only group that has formerly set up a club. Our club encourages younger and older players to participate.  While we have a percentage of tournament level players, the majority of folks are just looking to have fun, enjoy the social aspects of the game and club events.”

Anything else you’d like to add about the club or the sport?

“You and your friends should come and join us.  Great exercise and a nice group of people.”

Neupert can be reached at [email protected]