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Woodbury Pickleball Club grows membership to 160 and gets new courts

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Jim Pence of Woodbury played a few rounds of pickleball Friday morning. By 11 a.m., all of the pickleball courts at Shawnee Park filled up with players (Bulletin photo by Youssef Rddad. 2 / 3
Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens attended the grand opening celebration at the Shawnee Park pickle ball courts last Friday. (submitted photo)3 / 3

America’s fastest-growing sport is in full swing at Shawnee Park.

For years a local organization has been pushing Woodbury Parks and Recreation to improve the six pickleball courts at the park, which were converted from two unused tennis courts. The improvements were finished this summer and include new fences, surfaces, and nets. The renovations cost about $80,000. 

Last Friday morning, the Woodbury Pickleball Club and more than two dozen players held a grand opening celebration at the new pickleball courts in Shawnee Park. 

Pickleball is a sport similar to tennis where players bat a ball with a paddle over a net. The court is about the size of a badminton court.  
U.S. Rep. Joel Pritchard reportedly invented the game in the 1970s after he and some friends used improvised paddles made of plywood and a wiffle ball to play badminton.
In recent years, the sport has become increasingly popular, especially among senior adults.

In Woodbury, the city supplies balls and paddles for the pickleball program, but players can purchase paddles and balls at sports equipment retailers or online stores for less than $100.

Players at Shawnee Park long complained that the old asphalt courts were difficult to play on, and balls would often take odd bounces when hitting a crack in the surface. The courts were also not color-coded, which made it difficult for players to tell if a ball went out of bounds.

For player DeAnna Renko, the newly painted and surfaced court is a significant improvement.

“We dealt with really bad courts last summer,” she said.  

Renko said she enjoys the social atmosphere around playing pickleball, and the sport gives people an opportunity meet people within their community.  

"It's a friendly sport and you make a lot of good friends and new friends playing pickleball," she said.

The new courts look like tennis courts from afar. But upon closer look, the playing area is smaller, which makes makes the game easier to play because players don’t have to cover as much ground.

Jim Pence, who also played a few rounds last Friday, said he began playing about five years ago and likes that pickleball puts less strain on his shoulders than when he played competitive racquetball for 15 years.

"As you get older your joints and muscles get older,” Pence said. Pickleball “is an easy sport to learn, and you don't have to cover near the territory as you do a tennis court. That's why it's so popular with senior adults."

Woodbury mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens also attended last Friday’s event and played in the new courts.

Stephens said she used to play tennis in her spare time, so learning how to play was not difficult.

Members of the pickleball club also attributed the mayor’s support as instrumental to the courts’ renovations.

"It's a shame the mayor had to get involved for anyone to do anything about it," Pence said.

Anita Acchione, a pickleball club organizer, said the group has grown to more than 160 members since it started, which prompted the need for better facilities.

The group also offers lessons for beginners.

“People feel more comfortable without someone smashing a ball at them,” Acchione said.

The lessons include drills for serving and swinging the paddle, as well as strategy and a rundown of the nuances.  

Pickleball program memberships cost $15 for Woodbury residents and $21 for nonresidents.

The group meets from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays, and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays at Shawnee Park.

The courts are located in the park next to Crosswinds Arts and Science School, which is located at 600 Weir Drive.