Just follow the sound of the dinks to find the hottest game in town, pickleball. Once considered an obscure gym class activity or a sport for older generations, pickleball has had a surge of interest in the past few years, gaining popularity for players who enjoy the sport for recreation and competition.
St. Charles resident Michelle Di Orio has been playing for three years. She tried it for the first time while visiting her parents in Florida about three years ago when she thought she’d give pickleball a try and after her first game she was hooked.
“I loved it,” she quipped.
She came home and learned she could play pickleball Saturday mornings at Haines Gymnasium. Today, the St. Charles Park District has more than 11 courts available for pickleball with a few more expected later this year. Outdoor pickleball courts are located at James O. Breen Community Park and Belgium Town Park, while four indoor courts are each at Haines Gymnasium Pottawatomie Community Center. Additionally, the park district plans to paint and provide pickleball courts outdoors at Pottawatomie Park later this year, explained Melissa Caine, Assistant Superintendent of Recreation who oversees the park district pickleball operations and its newsletter, The Dink.
In 2020 the park district launched pickleball leagues, where players of different levels can join in weekly games. The winter league opened its registration in late December and within the first few hours of resident registration the program was nearly full, Caine said.
Joe and Donna Holloway of St. Charles are active in the intermediate level pickleball league where they face different opponents and have different game partners for each match.
“It’s fun because you’re meeting and playing with a lot of different people,” Joe Holloway said. He got into the game after receiving a set of pickleball paddles and balls for Father’s Day. The couple has always enjoyed being active and when the weather allows, they enjoy the outdoor courts.
Unlike some sports, Holloway said he thinks pickleball is relatively easy to pick up. It uses an under-hand serve which can be easier for limited range of motion, making the sport accessible to those who have had previous shoulder surgeries. As compared to a tennis, in pickleball, the net is shorter and the court is smaller.
For Di Orio, pickleball is a great way to get in some exercise. She prefers a competitive game and said in the summers she’s at the outdoor courts at James O. Breen Community Park every morning. She enjoys the outdoor play to have fresh air and doesn’t mind the challenges of sun and wind.
Di Orio added she likes playing matches with newer players and said there’s a real camaraderie on the courts with more experiences players always willing to help newer players improve specific skills and learn the rules.
Pickleball players will hang their racquets in an orderly ‘dibs manner’ to signify who’s up next on the courts. While it’s fun to play with a spouse or friend, it’s just as easy to drop in and join the court, meeting new players all the time.
The park district offers a limited selection of racquets for those interested in the game to borrow, but bringing your own equipment is strongly encouraged.
Caine said she is interested in contracting a pickleball instructor to provide classes for those adults wish to learn the game or improve their skills as well as game provide instruction for youth players. She’s also planning to expand the number of competitive tournaments as bragging rights are popular among pickleball players.
Pickleball has seen a surge of interest in the past few years as it gained popularity and new players like Paul Carani of St. Charles. Carani said his wife, Lisa, is a tennis player and tried to get him on the tennis court to no avail. In the fall of 2021, his wife invited him to play pickleball and after a game or two, the former racquetball player had to admit pickleball was a lot of fun.
“It’s got some elements of racquetball and a lot of elements of tennis, but the strategy in pickleball is really unique,” Carani said. “I can be competitive against a high-level player, and I can play for recreation.”
For more information on court times, leagues and the monthly newsletter visit stcparks.org.