Are you ready for some fitness, friendships and fun?
Now, it’s easier than ever to play pickleball, one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. Pickleball can be played by anyone and is easy to learn.
The Aitkin City Park is in the final stages of completing the pickleball court after more fundraising and player donations, the court was able to be finished. Two areas are ready for play with lines to be painted on the remaining four courts hopefully sometime this week depending on the weather.
There will be a grand opening and ribbon-cutting event Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 1 p.m. In the event of rain, the event will be held Thursday, Sept. 29 at 1 p.m. at the new courts. Refreshments will be available.
What is pickleball?
Originating in 1965 and named after a pet cockapoo dog named Pickles, pickleball is a sport that takes elements from badminton, ping pong and tennis. The game is played by using solid paddles to hit a wiffle-like ball on a court.
There is a national governing body of the sport that creates rules, sets up tournaments and catalogs places to play along with promoting the sport called USA Pickleball. See more about this group at https://usapickleball.org/.
John Newstrom, a certified pickleball instructor and author, learned about pickleball in 2006. He began playing by commuting to Cohasset and Grand Rapids to hone his skills. Newstrom said the sport was introduced locally by Mark and Cindee Anderson in Aitkin. “They built their own private court west of town and made that available for athletes to play on. It was a wonderful facility.”
“We wanted it (the sport) to grow, it did grow and eventually it changed to where we no longer had access to that court,” explained Newstrom. The local players started looking around for more places to play. “There was a group of about five or six of us that formed and did a thorough search of Aitkin for a vacant lot, building, even partially utilized buildings.”
Looking for adequate sites to play pickleball, the group made several ill-fated attempts to build courts on different sites but those faltered. Eventually Newstrom heard about people playing broomball in the winter that wanted to turn a grass court into a finished court. The pickleball group asked the broomball players if they could “piggyback on that project to make a multi-purpose facility.”
The community then formed a fundraising group and a “Make Your Mark, Support Our Park” campaign. Krista Olson was the Aitkin Community Education director at the time and took the reins of the park campaign. In a November 2019 interview, Olson said, “I’m so incredibly proud of the people who have worked extremely hard to help this project succeed. Members of the hockey association and the Aitkin Area Pickleball Association, as well as others who just want to see our community thrive, have helped our fundraising committee.”
Newstrom said Olson was, “instrumental in writing grants and the project grew enormously in scope as a multi-purpose facility.”
Recently, the facility has seen Aitkin City Administrator Mike Skrbich helping with the project. “In my terms, a get-it-done kind of guy,” said Newtrom. “Clearly we wouldn’t be where we are today had he not come to Aitkin.”
“We need to give a lot of credit to (Aitkin Public Works supervisor) Lon Nicko,” said Newstrom, “who has bent over backward on a number of occasions to facilitate this moving forward. It’s been a rocky road with many twists and turns but I am thrilled that as of next Wednesday or so, we will have six courts.”
Newstrom teaches a free class entitled Pickleball 101: Introduction to Pickleball, “I enjoy it thoroughly, it’s a very rewarding process. Almost anybody from the ages of 8 to 88 can show up and within a couple of hours can learn the rules and guidelines and how to get the ball back and forth,” he said. “I always stress safety first.”
A more formal class with weekly practice sessions is held at the beginning of summer. “We stress three things,” described Newstrom, “Pickleball is good for fitness, friendships and fun.” Newstrom talked about an interested player who told him, “I moved to town recently and I didn’t know how I was going to meet anybody. I signed up for this class and instantly I have a dozen friends.”
“I personally have either taught or coached or facilitated the development of 150 people locally,” said Newstrom, plus people in the surrounding areas. He also is involved in pickleball in Florida where he spends winters.
People can sign up for the class through Aitkin Community Education when available in the summer at www.isd1.ce.eleyo.com. The pickleball group will set up individual sessions when four or more people express interest.
A good pair of shoes was the first thing on Newstrom’s list of necessary equipment for pickleball play.
A pickleball paddle can generally be purchased for around $50 said Newstrom and balls can be purchased online or sporting goods stores.
How to join
The Aitkin Area Pickleball Association is a large and growing group of local women and men who are passionate about learning and playing the game of pickleball. There is an email distribution list for the group with approximately 130 names on the list so far.
To sign up for play at the Aitkin court, people can go online to www.playtimescheduler.com. PlayTime Scheduler is a free site specifically for pickleball games and play sessions. Choose your region and fill in specified fields. People can also see other players who have scheduled to play at what times to easily arrange an opponent if necessary. There is no fee for court time.
Newstrom encourages people of all ages to join and play. To see more, go to www.aitkinpickleball.com.
There is no fee to join the association but donations are accepted. People with questions or wanting more information can call Newstrom at 218-428-2439 or email Eunice Weslander at EBWeslander@gmail.com.