In a city rich in sports history, another chapter was quietly being written out in chalk Wednesday morning in East Trail.
A flurry of activity at the Butler Park tennis courts signalled the official arrival of sport that has been growing in popularity by leaps and bounds.
Although pickleball has been a mainstay in Trail for over five years, Wednesday marked a day when the sport was ready to leave its mark on the city’s impressive list of sporting facilities.
Armed with grant money from the Columbia Basin Trust and Teck, the pickleball volunteers were busy marking out the court dimensions that will transform the Butler Park courts into a dual-purpose facility.
Wayne Kissick, a volunteer with the pickleball group, said it has taken three years to get the sport to this point in the Home of Champions.
“What finally got it going was the city designating one (Butler Park) court for pickleball,” he explained.
Once it’s all done and approved, the courts will feature two tennis courts and up to four pickleball courts (pending allowable space). Thanks to its smaller playing court, four pickleball courts will only occupy slightly more than one of the existing tennis courts.
Before Wednesday’s initial outlines of the pickleball area, the players used temporary netting in the Cominco Gym and Fieldhouse for winter play and used the tennis courts and nets at Butler Park for summer play.
They drew up lines on the existing tennis court to allow for play.
Now they’ll have their own dedicated outdoor space with permanent posts installed, hopefully before the end of the year.
Kissick explained that moving from the existing tennis nets to the standard pickleball nets will improve the quality of the game for the growing legion of participants.
“Absolutely, the low net is the big part. A lot of the game play is mainly at the net.”
For those unfamiliar with the sport, pickleball netting is two inches lower than standard tennis nets. The game is played with a hard paddle and plastic wiffle (pickleball) ball. The pickleball ball typically moves at one-third the average speed of a tennis ball and the court is just under one-third the area of a tennis court.
Before the green light was given to take part of the facility dedicated to tennis, the tennis-playing community was canvassed, explained Robert Baker, the City of Trail’s facilities manager.
“We did a bit of community engagement with the tennis players and they were relatively agreeable,” said Baker.
“But the reason this is happening is because of the volunteers. Give them all the credit.”
He added no taxpayer money was used for the transformation and the volunteers are doing all of the leg work raising funds and plotting out the courts. Next it will be put out to bids for the installation of the posts.
Creating its own dedicated space is simply the next step in a sport Kissick called “the fastest growing in North America.”
The numbers support that claim.
Trail has 60 players currently coming out at various times of the year to play. Although pickleball was introduced at the B.C. Senior Games only a few years ago, it has become the third largest participation sport at the Games.
Twelve local players will be representing the region at this year’s Games in Kamloops.
“The sport is booming in every region of the province,” said Kissick.
Now that Trail has taken a step towards dedicating an area for pickleball, the door opens to opportunities to host tournaments and events.
“Pickleball players will travel anywhere to play,” said Kissick.