With new court striping at Browns Point Playfield and more to come, Metro Parks embraces the Pacific Northwest passion for pickleball.
On a bright sunny Friday, the Browns Point Playfield courts were filled. Two athletic youngsters faced off against a retiree and a man using a leg brace. In the far court, an octogenarian played a younger newbie. Laughter rang out, jokes flew over the net.
It was pickleball time, and Tacoma’s newest courts were being given a thorough workout.
“It’s fun, it’s social, it can include everybody,” explains Tom Yee, Metro Parks’ pickleball supervisor, who runs the Browns Point sessions. “And you feel like a kid again when you play.”
Pickleball is Washington’s state sport. In Northeast Tacoma it’s grown from 1 to 150 players in just over a year. And Metro Parks is listening: striping and resurfacing outdoor courts and expanding indoor sessions to allow more people to play.
“It’s getting so popular,” says Parker Ayers, recreation supervisor. “We heard at all our Co-Create to Recreate feedback sessions that people wanted more places for pickleball – so we’re creating more.”
Browns Point Playfield is one of those. During June, the two existing tennis courts were resurfaced and striped in white, then four purple pickleball courts striped over the top of one of them. Free portable nets are coming soon in a courtside locker, the code available via the website or Center at Norpoint front desk. The project is funded by Tacoma taxpayer-approved 2014 bond dollars.
To meet the pickleball demand, Metro Parks has also hired an adult sports coordinator, who’ll be overseeing pickleball and restriping other tennis courts over the next few months, starting with Point Defiance Park. Pickleball courts already exist at Vassault, Jefferson and Stewart Heights parks, as well as indoor drop-in session times at Norpoint, People’s and Eastside Community Centers, with equipment for loan.
Never heard of pickleball? You’re not alone. The sport was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island as a family game on a home court, but has taken off recently, especially in the Northwest. Although striped in a four-quartered rectangle like tennis, it’s actually more like a giant version of ping pong, with similar paddles. You can play singles or doubles, or keep switching people in and out of the game – either way, the focus is on strategy rather than athletic running and slamming. And with a hard plastic ball, it’s a lot easier to play outside in the rainy Northwest than tennis.
With a 35% growth rate nationally over the last three years, pickleball was recently even featured on “Good Morning America”. NBC News has called it “the fastest growing sport you’ve never heard of.”
“This is a wildly popular sport because it’s a very entry-level activity and everyone is invited to the party,” explains Ayers. “I can have a person in a sports wheelchair playing their able-bodied friend, or a 90-year-old man playing his nine-year-old grandson. It’s unique in who it can serve.”
“Playing social sports is so important for keeping healthy at all ages, and pickleball is a sport for everybody,” said Metro Parks Board Commissioner Aaron Pointer. “We’re really happy that Metro Parks can listen to our community and add more ways to play this uniquely Northwest sport.”
At the new Browns Point Playfield courts, you can see that inclusiveness in action. Among the players Friday morning is Tom Yee’s 88-year-old mom Pat and sister Teresa Hoggarth.
“It’s fun, and it’s good exercise,” says Pat, who got started a year ago.
“It makes me feel young and competitive again,” commented Hoggarth, who was playing with her son – three generations on one court. “And you make so many new friends.”
Newbie Clare Broadhead, taking a break from a singles game with Pat, agreed. “My husband and I are new to the area, and during Covid it was hard to meet people. This is so much fun and easy to pick up, and people are really welcoming. The courts are smaller, so you can have conversations all the time.”
On the doubles court were John Turnquist, a 74-year-old playing with a hip replacement and knee brace, playing alongside tournament bronze winner Mike Williams.
“This is physical therapy,” says Turnquist emphatically. “It’s kept me moving for five years.”
But pickleball isn’t just for old folks. Teaming up against Turnquist and Williams were former tournament tennis player Tara Kleca and 29-year-old Christian Meister, a former minor-league pitcher.
“Where tennis is all about physicality, pickleball is highly technical, like chess,” comments Kleca. “There’s a lot of strategy.”
“It’s really satisfying, I love it!” adds Meister.
So how do you start playing? One good way is to head to a Metro Parks community center, where drop-in session hours have just expanded and there’s equipment for loan. If you have your own paddles, you can drop in at Browns Point Playfield any weekday morning from 9-11am, or bring a friend to the courts at Stewart Heights, Vassault and Jefferson. And keep an eye on the metroparkstacoma.org/pickleball page for more updates and opportunities.
“You get to meet a bunch of people, and you get exercise without knowing it,” says Williams. “And you know how you felt as a kid going out to recess? That’s how it feels playing pickleball.”
DROP-IN INDOOR PICKLEBALL
Center at Norpoint: 3-7pm Mon/Wed; 8am-12pm Tues; 10am-3pm Thur; 11am-3pm Fri
People’s Community Center (March-June): 6-8pm Mon/Wed; 10:30am-12:30pm Tue/Thur (except second Tuesdays); 11:30am-1pm Sat
Eastside Community Center: 9am-12pm Mon/Wed/Fri
OUTDOOR PICKLEBALL COURTS
Browns Point Playfield, Vassault Park, Stewart Heights Park, Jefferson Park (first-come, first-served)
LEARN MORE: metroparkstacoma.org/pickleball
– Metro Parks Tacoma