The opening of a new recreation feature in the city doesn’t always come with much fanfare, but that wasn’t the case on Thursday with the unveiling of eight new pickleball courts at the Elliott Sports Complex.
“I am really taken aback by the number of people that are out here to celebrate this ribbon cutting,” said Mayor Christian Provenzano in his remarks to the 50 people lined up with paddle and ball in hand.
The players gathered at the fence of the new courts before the ribbon was cut, all eager to try the new courts. The wide-eyed look on some of their faces was similar to young children waiting to try out a new playground.
“We are,” said Soo Pickleball founder Linda Marasco. “It’s like a seniors’ playground.”
Pickleball is a sport that is played very similarly to tennis, with a shorter racket and a kind of waffle ball. Over the past few years Soo Pickleball has grown in numbers to over 200 members.
For years the pickleball players in the city have been playing on outdoor tennis courts in the city, as well as indoor courts at places like the Y and George Leech Centre.
“Almost every tennis court in the city had pickle ball lines put inside, so we use the same nets. It’s not ideal because the nets are not the same height,” said Marasco.
These new purpose-built courts will be outfitted in the new year with lower nets and only have lines drawn for the sport, not tennis. Temporary nets were brought in for Thursday’s announcement.
The new courts are part of a new age-friendly community outdoor hub at the Elliot, which includes newly accessible washrooms and a water fountain for drinking and filling water bottles.
Provenzano said it is critical for municipalities to build infrastructure like the pickleball courts to increase the quality of life for its citizens.
“The payoff is ten-fold,” said Provenzano to the gathered crowd. “And you see that here today because this is how you create community.”
Marasco said pickleball can be more a more social game than its cousin tennis.
“Unlike tennis where you have to find three players and show up, pickleball players find a court with social hours and everybody shows up,” she said. “You put your paddle next in line and then next four go out. So it’s a great way to meet people.”
The eight courts at the Elliot can support up to 32 simultaneous doubles players.
“Now we can have tournaments and even host an Ontario championship. That would be just awesome,” said Marasco of the new facility.
Even more exciting, said Marasco, are the possibilities the new courts offer for family outings.
“My goal for next summer is to have seniors bringing their grandchildren down because it’s a game for all ages. That would just be special,” she said.