Growing interest in pickleball sparks call for advisory committee in Fremont Township
Fremont Township routinely looks for public input in various areas, but a recent posting for experienced pickleball players was a first.
Supervisor Diana O'Kelly said she is looking for players to provide expertise and advice as the township considers what's involved with building outdoor pickleball courts at Behm Homestead Park on Peterson Road.
"We want to get an advisory group together," O'Kelly said Friday. "I've had a lot of calls."
While not new to the area, pickleball is a fast growing activity, especially for seniors and there has been continued demand for facilities.
O'Kelly described pickleball as a "combination of ping-pong, handball and tennis," that can be played indoors or out.
The court is a 20-foot by 40-foot rectangle (the same as in badminton) divided in the center by a 3-foot high net. Play starts with an underhand serve and the game goes up to 11 points. The ball is a modified whiffle ball, and the racket has a distinct design.
"It's a ping-pong paddle on steroids," said Sam Ritchie, who learned about pickleball in Florida and introduced it about six years ago at the Grand Dominion retirement community in Mundelein. He has volunteered to serve on the township committee.
In warmer months, anybody can play during morning and afternoon sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays, Ritchie said. He estimated there were 20 to 25 regular players, with the oldest being 84. Because the ball doesn't move as fast as a tennis ball, the game is attractive to those how may not be as nimble as they used to be.
"Anybody who has played any kind of paddle game will pick this up very quickly," he said.
However, one issue is a lack of dedicated pickleball courts, according to Ritchie. He said the game is popular at The Villages Florida, a retirement community of about 111,000 residents spanning three counties north of Orlando, where he is spending the winter.
"Every rec center they have has at least six courts, and they're always full," he said.
During cold weather months, Grand Dominion play shifts to the Libertyville Sports Complex.
Connie Kowal, who heads the village's parks department and Sports Complex, said he was asked about pickleball facilities about 2½ years ago and decided there was a market.
"We invested in official pickleball nets, and some pickleball paddles and pickleball balls and 'voila,'" he said.
A few years ago, the complex hosted a pickleball tournament, with participants coming from Wisconsin, Rockford, Chicago and other areas, Kowal said. Pickleball is played at the Sports Complex from 9 a.m. to noon every weekday.
"At our place, it's really popular," Kowal said. Players come from various communities and there several regulars, he added.
The Sports Complex is among 106 places to play in Illinois listed by the USA Pickleball Association, a nonprofit group organized to promote growth and development of the activity on a national and international level.
Why pickleball? According to the association, one story is Pickles was the name of the inventor's family dog, that would run off with the ball. Another is the combination of sports reminded the inventor's wife of a pickle boat in which oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats. Others say both accounts may be true.