By Ken Lass
The mayor and city council recently stirred up a hornet’s nest by fencing off a section along the Trussville greenway for the building of a pickleball complex. Mayor Buddy Choat told Tribune Unscripted that the location is now “off the table” after a wave of protest from walkers and disc golfers, some of whom were pretty creative with signs they hung on the fencing.
I had no problem with the courts. I did have some concerns about the parking. There’s precious little of it in the immediate area. The Senior Center lot fills up for a good hot lunch, much less a pickleball tournament. Rather than going up the hill to the Cahaba Elementary space, I had this vision of cars parking out of control everywhere on any patch of grass at all angles. Something similar to the parking chaos you see in the sports park on a busy Saturday.
At any rate, the mayor and council made the right call to back off. The angst isn’t worth it. It certainly isn’t going to slow down the growth of this phenomenon. Pickleball was invented back in the 1960s by three guys who had an old badminton court in their backyard but not enough racquets to play the game. So they substituted ping pong paddles. The shuttlecocks didn’t bounce well off the paddles, so they switched to a wiffle ball. After experimenting with rules and lowering the net, voila! A new game was born. Oh, and that weird name they gave it? Turns out one of the co-founders named it after his dog, Pickles.
Sharon and I tried playing once, and it really was quite fun. We got invited to play at the Civic Center. We showed up with no clue and no equipment, just our gym clothes and tennis shoes. The other players couldn’t have been more welcoming and more patient as I staggered around trying to figure out where to stand, how to serve, and how to keep score. It occurred to me that this might be one of the secrets to the rapid growth of pickleball. Those who play it actually want others to learn and join in as opposed to golf, where there is little patience for duffers like me who hold up the show because we are searching for yet another three-dollar ball sliced into the woods.
Since there are usually more players than courts, folks sit neighborly on the bleachers waiting for their turn to play, an excellent chance to socialize and make new friends. We enjoyed it to the point that, a few days later, we went to Academy Sports and bought a couple of cheap paddles and a couple of balls. I figured the least we could do when we return is to have our own stuff. Curiously, the paddles remain unopened in their package in my bedroom closet. Somehow, we never found our way back to play again, and I’m not sure why. Life just happens, I guess.
But pickleball is not going away. I don’t think it’s a fad like disco or beanie babies. It’s going to keep showing up everywhere you look. If you can’t beat ’em, might as well join ’em. Saw where our church is offering a beginners pickleball class. I think we’re going to sign up. What better place to play than at church? After all, I may need God’s help to learn this game that was named after a dog.
By the time the city does find a place for those new courts, I’ll be ready. Maybe I’ll see you there. I’ll be the guy with the cheap paddle, trying to figure out where to stand.
(Ken Lass is a retired Birmingham television news and sports anchor and Trussville resident.)