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Growth of pickleball leads to new courts in Aberdeen

Mark Zerr talks about the new pickleball courts under construction at Manor Park. Photo by John Davis taken 7/2/2021

It is the fastest growing sport in America and that includes Aberdeen.

Pickleball, a cross between ping pong and tennis, is showing no signs of slowing down and has led to the development of three permanent courts and an overflow court at Manor Park.

Mark Zerr, a former tennis player, recalled the day he found out about new sport. He was at the Aberdeen Family Y and noticed a group of others playing pickleball.

“I said, ‘Wow, that looks like miniature tennis.’ That’s how I got started and I was hooked from day one,” Zerr said.

The sport got its origins in 1965 when a Seattle area family started playing a makeshift game with ping pong paddles, a wiffle ball and a badminton net. The family dog, named Pickles, would take off running with the ball prompting the mom to say, that’s Pickles’ ball, and the rest is history.

“It’s table tennis, badminton and the sport of tennis all combined,” Zerr said.

The courts are much smaller than regular tennis courts so those who play don’t have to cover as much ground. Hence, there is less wear and tear on people’s bodies.

“Most of the sport is comprised of that retired group,” Zerr said. “Just the way the sport is set up, there’s not a lot of running to be done. It’s more based on hand quickness.”

Zerr has found that pickleball is a lot less taxing on him than tennis.

“I got to the point where my knee was hurting, my elbow was always sore, my shoulder was sore from tennis,” Zerr said. “With pickleball the serve is under hand, the paddle is only 18 inches and the whiffle ball is a lot lighter than a tennis ball. You’re not relying on all-out sprinting as much.”

Zerr said the vast majority of play is doubles, so there isn’t too much ground to cover.

“The court is 20-feet wide, so when’re your playing doubles you really only have 10 feet to cover,” Zerr said. “It’s more of a very quick sport.”

Up until now, local players have tried to find any place they can convert an area into courts from tennis courts at Holgate and Melgaard Park to the Family Y to the Matchbox Recreation Area.

“We needed a place big enough for our whole group,” Zerr said.

That core group currently measures between 50 and 75 people, some of whom like Zerr have won state championships. Zerr said the younger generation is quickly learning about the sport.

“It’s been taught in every PE class,” he said. “The kids know what the sport is, but they don’t know where to play.”

Zerr said former Aberdeen Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director Doug Johnson played a key role in helping to develop the new permanent courts.

“Without Doug’s leadership, this would have never taken place,” Zerr said.

While work is progessing on the three new courts, Zerr said that eventual plans for an additional three courts to be built right next to them.

In the meantime, Zerr and the rest of the pickleball players are excited about playing on the new courts. He said there will be opportunities for others, including those who have never played before, to get involved.

“Once these courts are installed, we’re probably going to have days where we put the word out there that we’re going to have instruction days, pick your partner, different games,” he said.

Zerr, for one, is just happy that a game was developed that allows him an opportunity to keep playing a racquet sport that has extended his competitive playing days.

“It’s such a sweet sport with a sour name of pickleball,” Zerr said.

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