Willamalane celebrated the completion of the first outdoor, public pickleball courts in Springfield during a ribbon cutting on June 24 at Meadow Park.
The event celebrated the partnership between Willamalane Park and Recreation District and the Emerald Valley Pickleball Club. A brief ceremony was held, followed by an exhibition, beginner clinic and pickleball matches.
The addition of eight new courts is significant, according to Roger Schaljo, president of the Emerald Valley Pickleball Club.
“You don’t often get a new sport that catches on like wildfire and is so good for so many age groups. So this is a big deal for the community to have the first designated outdoor pickleball courts,” he said.
Schaljo noted that availability of indoor pickleball courts is usually reserved for the daytime. The outdoor courts, he said, will allow more time for “working people to come out and play.”
“Outdoor courts can open the floodgates for increased play and interest,” said Schaljo. “As an example, Bend had 90 pickleball members before outdoor courts were constructed and now have 650 members.”
Current club membership of the Emerald Valley Pickleball Club, which was started two years ago, is 142 members. Schaljo expects it to grow to 250 in the next year.
The club is committed to growing the sport, he said, and has worked closely with Willamalane to plan and construct the new courts. Through their own fundraising efforts, the club has raised $12,000 to match Willamalane’s investment in converting two tennis courts into the new pickleball courts.
The previous year, the club volunteered their time and energy by power washing and striping boundary lines to prepare the courts for pickleball play. Their efforts and consistent use of the courts helped justify making the courts permanent.
“We can’t thank the Emerald Valley Pickleball Club enough for their passion, dedication and hands-on involvement in seeing this project through,” said Superintendent Vincent Martorello. “Their partnership has been both inspirational and invaluable.”
To convert the courts, new surfacing, striping, permanent netting and fencing were constructed, he said.
The addition of the pickleball courts follows on the heels of last year’s Meadow Park improvements, which included a new playground, landscaping, paved plaza, benches and renovation of restrooms. Along with the conversion of the pickleball courts, two other courts have recently been resurfaced for tennis.
Schaljo said the addition of the pickleball courts will help add to the energy and activity in the park, located at 851 Mill St. in Springfield.
He envisions the courts being busy throughout the week, especially evenings and weekends. He also predicts the new courts will be a catalyst for attracting even more people to pickleball, one of the fastest growing sports in the country.
Schaljo attributes the explosion of the sport to several factors.
“First, it’s an easy sport to pick up, and you don’t have to be a super athlete. You can jump in and play after just a little bit of instruction. And second, it’s a very social and friendly game where you’re only 14-feet from your opponents,” said Schaljo.
And last of all, he said, pickleball is a fast-paced, fun game of touch and strategy and has excellent health benefits. “It gets the heart rate up and it stays up.”
The game is played on a badminton-sized court, with rules similar to tennis. The equipment is also simple, with players using a solid paddle to strike a plastic whiffle ball. Both singles and doubles can play.
Along with the outdoor pickleball courts, Willamalane offers indoor court time throughout the week at Bob Keefer Center in Springfield.
To join the Emerald Valley Pickleball Club, or learn more about the sport, contact Roger Schaljo at 541-214-4940.