New pickleball courts reflect sport's growing popularity in Dublin
The increasing numbers of players filling eight newly constructed pickleball courts at Dublin Coffman Park adhere to one simple rule: If you’re here, you play.
The no-spectating admonishment ensures the curious becomes the engaged, said Jim Turner, the “team leader” of the Dublin Pickleball Association.
The 78-year-old Dublin resident was an advocate for the construction of the Coffman Park Pickleball Courts, gathering supporters who gently nudged Dublin to build them adjacent to the skate park and the Dublin Justice Center, 6565 Commerce Parkway..
The pickleball courts opened May 14.
An enclosed restroom and changing area, built when the skate park was constructed, is adjacent to the fenced courts, which are lighted, allowing play from sunrise until 11 p.m. each day.
The cost for the pickleball courts, approved by Dublin City Council as part of the city's capital-improvements projects budget, was $320,350, said Shirley Blaine, a public-information officer for Dublin.
All eight courts were filled shortly after 8 a.m. June 8 as others waited to jump in after a completed match.
Between matches, those taking a break use the time to catch up with the friends they made through playing.
“I’ve met a lot of new friends playing pickleball," said Dave Stafford, 69, of Dublin. "That’s the best part of it. It’s not the game – it’s the social part."
The very roots of the game are social, and it is meant to be played by people of all ages, said Colleen D’Angelo, 54, of Dublin.
According to usapickleball.org, pickleball was invented by a trio of fathers on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle.
Bill Bell, Barney McCallum and Joel Pritchard – who would go on to serve as a lieutenant governor of Washington – are credited with its invention after their "kids were bored with their usual summertime activities," according to the website.
Lacking badminton equipment, the men suggested using pingpong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. They set up a 60-inch net but soon lowered it to 36 inches after discovering how well the ball bounced.
The men crafted formal rules, and in 1972, a corporation was formed to protect the creation of the sport, according to the website.
The first known pickleball tournament was held in 1976 in Washington, and in 1984, the U.S. Amateur Pickleball Association, the USAPA, was organized to perpetuate the growth and advancement of the sport, according to the website. Last year, the USAPA rebranded as USA Pickleball.
The sport, which may be played as singles or doubles, combines elements of tennis, badminton and pingpong and may be played indoors or outdoors on a 20-by-44-foot court, which is identical to a doubles badminton court.
The Dublin Pickleball Association “unofficially” formed as the number of players continued to grow, said Turner, who began playing about five years ago on the indoor courts at the Dublin Community Recreation Center.
The indoor courts remain and are used during inclement weather, but otherwise, the group plays on the new outdoor courts, Turner said.
Fences prevent balls from adjacent courts disrupting other matches, and the pickleball courts are better than tennis courts and others modified with additional ground striping and moveable nets to accommodate the dimensions for the game, Turner said.
The Dublin Pickleball Association remains loosely structured, Turner said.
As of June 8, 274 people had created a profile for the Dublin Pickleball Association on a mobile app that allows members to communicate and confirm attendance for open play, match play or clinics at scheduled times on the courts, he said.
“This all started from a group of us playing at the rec center and it just kept growing,” Turner said. “Some of us have become like family."
Players are looking forward to resuming "happy hour" gatherings that involve the spouses and other family members at the Bogey or Yogi’s Bar & Grill, Turner said.
There are no age limits or residency requirements to join the Dublin Pickleball Association or play at the courts.
The members of the association strive to welcome “newbies” to the game, even adjusting their play to accommodate novices, Turner said.
On any given day, there are a mix of first-timers and those who won sanctioned, national competitions.
They include Carol Smith, 74, of Dublin, who won a gold medal in the singles competition at the Kings Point Pickleball Club in Florida, a gold medal in mixed doubles at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, and a gold medal in women’s doubles at the 2021 U.S. Open in Tampa, Florida, sanctioned by USA Pickleball.
Smith, once an avid golfer, said she was introduced to pickleball four years ago when she joined the Dublin Community Recreation Center.
“Two years later, I wasn’t playing golf anymore,” said Smith, adding she enjoys the camaraderie of the game and having teammates, which typically isn’t afforded in golf.
The courts at the park are available on a first-come, first serve basis. It is free to play and no reservations are required or accepted, according to the city’s website, dublinohiousa.gov.
If all the courts are full, players place their paddle in a row to rotate onto the next available court, according to the website.
For now, the paddles are placed on a fence line, “but we are working on getting a rack for the paddles,” Turner said.
Turner also is working on introducing the game to younger players, including at the middle school and high school levels.
“I am talking the (Ohio High School Athletic Association) about it,” Turner said.
Two players not so far removed from the high-school-aged players Turner wants to recruit arrived at the courts June 8 as association members were wrapping up.
“This is only my second time playing. I kind of thought of pickleball as tennis for old people, (but) it’s fun,” said John Pappas, 34, of Plain City, who had been invited by his friend, Noah Carpenter, 22, of Dublin.
Carpenter said he picked up on the game about two years ago when the aunt of a friend introduced him to it on a family vacation.
“But I didn’t play again until these courts opened ... It’s a fun game,” Carpenter said.
The addition of more courts will be evaluated based on the use of the new ones and compared to other needs indicated through the city's public-input process, Blaine said.