Patrice Searle used to play a laundry list of sports when she was a fitness specialist for the U.S. Air Force: basketball, volleyball, tennis and competition-level disc golf.
Her main sport now is pickleball, which a neighbor got her involved with two years ago. She and eight other players hit the ball around at the Youth and Family Link gymnasium in Longview late Tuesday morning.
In between serves in the pick-up game, Searle said she was happy about Monday’s news that Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill making pickleball the official state sport of Washington.
“Pickleball is a great sport for the state because it’s not just for young folks. It’s something that entire families can play,” Searle said.
Cowlitz County may not have as many active pickleball leagues or clubs as other parts of Washington, but the sport has a passionate base of locals. Allen Gutenberger, one of the other players at the gym Tuesday morning, drives from Rainier multiple times a week to play at Longview’s indoor courts.
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Whitney LeMonds, gym coordinator for Youth and Family Link, estimated there are about 200 regular pickleball players who use the rec center.
“When we first started, I think a lot of people didn’t know about it, but there is a quiet, large group of pickleball players in the community,” LeMonds said.
Pickleball is a hybrid of tennis and table tennis. Players use large solid paddles to hit a plastic ball dotted with holes, similar to a Wiffle ball, back and forth over a net on a hard court.
Inslee signed the bill Monday on Bainbridge Island, where pickleball was invented in 1965. The sport was created in a back yard by three fathers — including Joel Pritchard, a former Congressman and Lieutenant Governor of Washington.
During a jokey and light-hearted bill signing, Inslee said pickleball is a worthy addition to the list of inventions that have come out of Washington.
“Now we have the monument to fun which is pickleball, and I’m proud to say that our Legislature understood that,” Inslee said.
In 2020 and 2021, pickleball was called the fastest-growing sport in America by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association with just shy of five million players across the United States. Professional pickleball games began being aired last year on FOX Sports through its TV channels and app.
Places to play in Longview
Longview Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Wills said pickleball has not been an organized presence in Longview until the last few years, when tennis players and pickleball players really started competing for space at the city’s parks.
On nice days, pickleball games are played at parks across the city. Vandercook and John Null parks each have dedicated courts with lines drawn specifically for pickleball.
“On Saturdays, you can drive by and see 40 or 50 people playing or waiting their turn to play,” Wills said.
The Longview Pickleball Club received nearly $15,000 in grant money from the city in 2018 to resurface the courts at Vandercook Park for tennis and pickleball.
Vandercook’s pickleball courts are outlined in orange paint. If players use the tennis net, the park has two courts. If players provide their own netting, they can divide the two courts into four smaller ones. Pickleball club members also keep an equipment box in the corner of the court so players don’t have to bring their own paddles.
“For us, it’s more eyes and more positive use of the park. Any time there’s good use happening at our parks, it negates bad use,” Wills said.
A single covered court is part of Harlie’s Hoops near the Elks Memorial Building at Lake Sacajawea, which was donated to the city earlier this year. New pickleball courts are one piece of the master plan for the sports complex at Roy Morse Park the City Council approved in 2019.
Youth and Family Link has four courts available to the public for $5 a person until 2 p.m. weekdays. LeMonds said most of the players are adults are more than 40 years old. Tournament-level players come through multiple times a week, but most of the games are casual pick-up games among whoever shows up that day.
The YMCA of Southwest Washington sees a lot of pickleball players on its courts, though they have to split time with several other indoor sports looking for space. Two of the indoor courts at the Mint Valley Racquet and Fitness Club are set up for pickleball.