New pickleball courts a big hit in Simi Valley
- By Jake Finch
- SIMI VALLEY NEWS
Dennis Lichty of Placerville keeps score as Larry and Rita Tucker of Ventura play a game of pickleball on the new courts at Tapo Canyon Community Park in Simi Valley on Friday. “It’s a great venue now,” said Lichty, who was visitng friends on his way to an upcoming pickleball tournament. “What a difference from those outdoor basketball courts we were playing on the other day.”
Larry and Rita Tucker were armed Friday afternoon with a tape measure, a couple of odd-shaped paddles and, in Rita’s case, earrings and a pendant shaped like their odd-shaped paddles, when the gates to Simi Valley’s four new pickleball courts were unlocked for the first time.
The Ventura twosome are dedicated pickleball players, and Simi’s new courts at Rancho Tapo Community Park, 3700 Avenida Simi, are the first known courts dedicated only to pickleball in the county. They are free to use by the community.
“I live and breathe this stuff,” said Larry Tucker, a retired elementary school teacher. “It’s addictive.”
The Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District also built four lighted tennis courts. Construction on the courts began last July and cost $899,000. These are the first public tennis courts in Simi Valley’s east end.
But the pickleball courts were definitely the stars on opening day with more than 40 people — mostly seniors — waiting for the gates to open.
In pickleball, two teams of two face each other over a net where a whiffle ball is hit back and forth, like tennis. The paddles are the size of racquetball paddles, but are solid like ping-pong paddles. It’s not a sedentary sport, but the level of activity is much lower than for tennis or even badminton, making pickleball popular with seniors.
In 2005, the USA Pickleball Association was formed to promote and oversee what it calls America’s fastest-growing sport.
Tournaments are popping up throughout the country after the first one was held in 2009 in Buckeye, Ariz., drawing more than 400 players from 26 states and Canada. In March 2010, the association’s website listed 777 places to play pickleball. The listings numbered 1,267 last month.
Stan Kahlsman, one of the senior programs directors for the district, said he’s got about 70 regulars registered in the pickleball program, which has been growing steadily since its start at least six years ago. He will continue to run the main senior program at the Santa Susana Recreation Center until summer, when the kids camp programs start, and then move his Tuesday-Thursday morning program to the outdoor courts.
“People come from all over,” said Kahlsman, citing participants from Chatsworth, Santa Clarita and Valencia. “It’s pretty much the only program (here in Simi). But some people who come here from Thousand Oaks have started a small program there.”
Pickleball courts use badminton markings for their boundary lines. Until now, players would mark tennis courts with chalk before playing and often get into conflicts with tennis players who objected to waiting for pickleball games to finish, Kahlsman said. “These people are thrilled because they used to go to the tennis courts,” he said.
“These courts will be used a lot.”
Larry Tucker brought a tape measure to check the height of the nets. He measured each of the 20-foot-long nets that divided the 44-foot-long courts to check for 34 inches in the middle and 36 inches on the outside.
“As we speak today, there are six different cities this month having pickleball court dedications,” Tucker said. “That’s how fast this is growing.”
Camarillo resident Dan Cordova comes regularly to the Simi program. He started when his girlfriend brought him to a game, and the former college badminton player was immediately hooked. Next week, Cordova will join about 30 other Simi players in their first tournament in Palm Springs. He laughed when he said he didn’t think the four courts would be enough to support the pickleball players, but they were a good start.
“It’s the ideal sport for me,” he said.