By Phil Dodd
The tick-tock sound of a plastic ball being hit back and forth across a net with a wooden or graphite racket is becoming ever more common in Montpelier, where scores of area residents—young and old—are keeping active by playing pickleball on two indoor courts at the Montpelier Recreation Center.
“It keeps growing and growing and growing,” said Recreation Department program director Eric White of the game with a funny name. “We’re kind of running out of space.”
Pickleball—invented in Washington State in the 1960s and played on a badminton-sized court with a lower net—is now offered five days a week at the Rec Center in three different groupings based on skill level. In warmer weather, players can also schedule their owns games at two tennis courts at the Rec Field and two at the high school that have been striped for pickle ball use as well as tennis.
Bill Perreault of Montpelier is one of the enthusiasts regularly playing pickleball, usually three times a week for a total of six hours. “I started playing two years ago last February,” he said. “It was the right thing for me. I like that it is regular and scheduled. The social aspect is good. And the people are not too serious. It is just plain fun.”
Pickleball involves less running than tennis because the court is smaller, most people play doubles, and the perforated ball, similar to a Wiffle Ball, won’t carry speed as far. Those who have played some kind of racket sport before, be it tennis, racquetball, badminton, or ping-pong, can usually pick up the sport fairly quickly.
Nationally, pickleball has been gaining more and more fans over the past decade or so. White said the Rec Center first offered the game about three years ago and added more indoor times and the outdoor courts as the game’s popularity mushroomed locally.
To play at the Rec Center, Montpelier residents can pay $2 a visit or buy a 22-game punch card for $30, which works out to $1.36 a visit. Nonresidents pay $3 a visit or $45 for a punch card. The Rec Center supplies some basic rackets for beginners, but most people buy their own rackets, which Perreault said range in price from $40 to $120.
Some come from as far away as Hardwick to play in Montpelier, according to Perreault, but players here also seek out playing time at other venues such as the Barre Town Elementary School on weekends, the Edge fitness club in Essex, and in summer, outdoor courts in Waterbury and at Joe’s Pond in West Danville. Closer to home, First in Fitness in Berlin is considering adding some pickleball hours this winter.
White noted that the Rec Center courts are open to anyone, but the players have taken to using a website—playerlineup.com—to let people reserve spots to play. Over 160 people are currently signed up on the site for Montpelier pickleball.
Perreault said that advance reservations for each session often reach the typical 16-player maximum, or come close to it, which means half of the group will be playing doubles while the others wait their turn. “The growth in the number of players in the last two years has been amazing,” he said. He and some other players now rent space in the Rec Center on weekends in order to get their fix of pickleball.
The sport’s popularity means that local pickleball players are worried the Rec Center courts could become even more crowded, and they would like to see more courts or court-time made available. White said that the city is considering the possibility of adding pickleball markings to more of Montpelier’s tennis courts next summer, but said that no decision has been made.
Meanwhile, during this cold winter, local players who love the exercise and socializing involved in pickleball are scrambling to find indoor court time.