GREEN Move over cornhole, pickleball has just assumed its role as the fastest growing recreational sport in the country. At least among those referred to as a food.
And as of Sept. 13, the city of Green became the first community in Summit County to have its own dedicated pickleball courts, at Boettler Park.
For Harold and Gail Milhoan, Springfield Township residents and founders of a 75-member pickleball group with members from several communities, the dedicated courts mark an end to more than a decade of hauling equipment to parks and recreation centers throughout the county, marking courts, erecting nets and holding matches each Tuesday and Friday night.
"And then, you had to take your equipment back (home) with you," Gail said at the grand opening ceremonies for the Boettler courts, where the couple was honored for being instrumental in bringing the courts to fruition. "We are so excited for this."
Pickleball - not actually named for a cucumber byproduct, but rather inventor Joel Pritchard’s family dog, Pickles who had a propensity for chasing stray balls and hiding them in bushes – was created in 1965 on Bainbridge Island near Seattle.
Pritchard, along with friends and fellow fathers Bill Bell and Barney McCallum, created the game using handmade equipment and simple rules to entertain their children, who had grown bored with traditional summertime activities.
Fast forward 50-plus years, and the game is now a sanctioned sport, governed by the USA Pickleball Association, which maintains rules, promotes the sport, sanctions tournaments and provides player rankings.
The game is quite to tennis, on a slightly smaller scale and using table tennis-like paddles and a ball that resembles an oversized whiffle ball.
The Milhoans were introduced to the game by Peg Lauer, a retired physical education trainer at the Green YMCA who found the game during a trip to Florida.
"I wanted to use my skills to volunteer," Lauer said. "I found pickleball, which should come with a warning: addictive."
Convincing city officials to allow her to use the tennis courts at East Liberty Park to hold matches, Lauer became a one-person pickleball marketing machine for the next two years.
"I was so excited when we could get four people to come out because then we could have a game," she said. "But nobody knew what it was. People couldn’t find paddles to buy. So I bought a bunch and sold them out of the trunk of my car."
Lauer called the dedication of the marked, regulation 20- by 44-foot pickleball courts at Boettler Park a dream come true. The ceremony came complete with a celebrity doubles match featuring Lauer, Harold Milhoan, Green City Councilwoman Barb Babbitt, and Green Parks and Recreation Board Chair Jennifer Foster.
"I just learned the rules five minutes ago," Foster laughed as she absentmindedly twirled her paddle in her hand minutes before the match.
Green Parks Superintendent Michael Elkins said pickleball is a great game in large part due to its broad appeal, in spite of its reputation as somewhat of a seniors-based activity.
"If you look here today, there are people of all ages," Elkins said of the nearly 70 people gathered for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "It’s a cross generational game."
A perfect sport to maintain cardiovascular health and flexibility, the game is often popular with older tennis players for the smaller court and somewhat slower pace, he said.
The retrofitting of the Boettler Park tennis courts for pickleball was paid out of the city’s parks capital improvement fund and were a good fit at Boettler, Elkins added.
"The reality is, we took a look at the use of the tennis courts at Boettler and when Green High School built their courts, we felt pickleball was a good opportunity here," he said.
As for the future of the sport in Green and beyond, Harold Milhoan perhaps put it best, and certainly the most succinctly.
"I’d say pickleball is here to stay."