New outdoor pickleball courts a hit in Fremont Township
Fremont Twp. caters to enthusiasts of popular game
The sound as one approaches the new courts at Behm Homestead Park near Mundelein is reminiscent of a tennis ball being whacked. But the difference is distinct.
So are the equipment and the game itself, a blend of tennis, badminton and pingpong called pickleball. Played with an oversized solid paddle and a Wiffle-type ball, the fast-growing game has become an immediate hit at the sprawling park near Peterson Road and Route 60 in Fremont Township.
Players are predominantly seniors looking for exercise and camaraderie. That's why township officials decided to transform an unused basketball court into a paradise for pickleballers, most from nearby active adult communities such as Saddlebrook Farms or Grand Dominion.
"We want our aging population to stay active," said Diana O'Kelly, Fremont Township supervisor. "This is the fastest-growing sport in the country, and we wanted to be able to do it right."
Early this year, the township began to investigate the possibility of converting the basketball court after hearing from pickleballers.
A committee was formed to provide expertise and advice, which ultimately led to an investment of about $50,000 for fencing, a new rubberized surface, netting and other elements.
"This is like nirvana or heaven," said Grayslake resident Felicia Moscatelli, a retired physical education teacher and avid player.
"Whoever put it together must have asked the experts."
Moscatelli taught the game at Warren Township High School during a 20-year tenure. The sport is now being taught at the junior high level and there are tournaments throughout the country, she added.
She was among about a dozen players Wednesday morning who came to play doubles in the bright sun. Players say the beauty of the game is that novices can play and learn quickly.
Many of the outdoor facilities have lines for a pickleball court, which is about a third of the size of a tennis court.
"This is, we think, the first real pickleball court in Lake County," said Bill Morris, a Grayslake resident who plays three times a week. He has an email list of about 30 players from his subdivision, and there are similar networks in other areas.
Steve Kovac, a Mundelein real estate professional, was on the township advisory committee.
He said he has been playing in Wheeling and Buffalo Grove, and is part of a group that takes lessons and meets on the tennis courts three times a week at Marriott Lincolnshire.
"You could go to the gym and it's drudgery. I'm having fun," he said.
"It's exercise and it's socialization. There's a camaraderie in pickleball."
According to the USA Pickleball Association, there are 124 places to play in Illinois, many in the suburbs, up from 106 in January. They include indoor facilities at the Libertyville Sports Complex, a few miles east of Behm Park on Peterson Road and Route 45.
Pickleball debuted there four years ago and is offered 9 a.m. to noon every weekday. Expanded hours, clinics and tournaments are on the horizon, according to Connie Kowal, head of Libertyville's parks department and sports complex.
"It's been a very successful program for us," he said.
O'Kelly said there will be a learning curve, but the intent is to meet the needs of residents.
"The only thing we would like someday is lights to play at night," Moscatelli said.