By Lea Kopke
BROWN COUNTY – Fifteen years ago a group of five people met to play pickleball using portable nets at the Edison Park tennis courts.
Now Bob Fry, head of Packerland Pickleball Players and ambassador for the American Pickleball Association, said 50 to 60 people are likely to be playing pickleball at courts across the area at any given moment.
Pickleball, a sport which can be described as a larger version of table tennis, has in recent years exploded in popularity across the United States.
“Pickleball has really grown humongously over the past six, seven, eight years,” Fry said. “Part of the reason is it’s at the same time that the interest in tennis has declined. Pickleball courts are a third the size of tennis courts, it has different rules and you can play it in a variety of different styles.”
Quinn Thompson, Howard, said he began playing two years ago and quickly fell in love with the sport.
“There’s so much to the game,” he said. “You can travel anywhere. Out of all the sports I’ve played – and I’ve played tons… college basketball, football, in high school almost every sport. But with pickleball it is one of the most friendly sports I’ve ever played. You can go out, meet people and have fun doing it, no matter your skill set.”
Thompson said pickleball has been a great sport as he’s gotten older.
“I just turned 40,” Thompson said. “I started playing because I could still get a good active workout, because in basketball I was getting older and the kids were getting faster. In pickleball it doesn’t matter how old you are, you could be 19 or 70 and still play competitively.”
Fry said he recommends people interested in learning to play go through the Packerland Pickleball Players instructional class, Pickleball 101, at Fort Howard in Ashwaubenon.
“You get a formal class on court with trained people who have done this for years and teach you the basics,” he said, “And it’s only two sessions.”
The Packerland Pickleball Players group also posts playing schedules on its website for the courts at Edison, Fort Howard and Meadowbrook parks.
Fry said this gives players the opportunity to play without having to worry about finding a partner.
“The nice thing about pickleball is because of the number of places and schedules put out there, I don’t have to find somebody to play with,” he said. “People show up when there’s scheduled play. It’s a great exercise, great social game, and you can play competitively. You can choose to play as much as you want, as hard as you want and as often as you want.”
Due to the increased popularity of pickleball in the area, Fry said there has been a large number of courts created in the area by local municipalities, including De Pere, Howard and Allouez.
He said the Packerland Pickleball Players have helped in some of these efforts, with the group fundraising about $11,000 in the last year and a half to contribute to the Green Bay park department’s development of more courts.
New Allouez pickleball courts
Some of the area’s newest courts opened two weeks ago at Kiwanis Park in Allouez.
Matthew Hahn, Allouez recreation coordinator, said on opening day a large number of people came to play throughout the day.
Hahn said the courts were part of the village’s five year outdoor recreation plan and were built in partnership with the Green Bay Packers Foundation.
“There was a lot of community interest here overall,” Hahn said. “It was a combination of the five year plan and community input.”
He said due to the area’s recent growth in pickleball interest, the village felt it was important to provide a space for east side residents.
“On our end we were just looking to provide a space that the community wanted to see that would be kind of unique to our specific area,” Hahn said. “There’s a lot of courts in western Green Bay, so these courts provide an east side place for people to meet at.”