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Pickleballers look to expand

ASHLAND — In mid-40s temperatures under a sunny sky, six pickleball players showed up at Lithia Park earlier this month to be part of a video-drone shoot that will help promote the newly formed Southern Oregon Pickleball Association.

Players were glad to answer the call despite the temperature and net setup required. They would like to see courts — both indoor and outdoor — specifically for pickleball use. Most courts in the Rogue Valley are shared with other sports.

Pickleball is described by Wikipedia as a racquet sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis. Two, three or four players use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a perforated polymer ball, similar to a wiffle ball, over a net.

“We need more dedicated time,” said Jack Methot, who helped create the local group. He says it’s time for pickleballers to be proactive rather than reactive and to grow the sport and its facilities. He envisions collaboration with a local government that would provide land where the group could build indoor and outdoor courts.

“It’s about time that somebody tried to bring us all together,” said Marty Burns, who helped introduce the sport to the Rogue Valley a decade ago. “I’m so glad that he is willing to do this. We are just getting too crowded.”

Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in America. Many communities, including Bend, have created dedicated court setups.

Methot put out a call for an organizing meeting at the Ashland library Sept. 18. More than 50 people showed up. The group’s email list numbers 370 and is growing, and there’s an eight-member board of directors.

The sport is played outdoors locally at Lithia Park and Helman School in Ashland, Chuck Roberts Park in Talent, Don Jones Park in Central Point and Fichtner-Mainwaring and Holmes parks in Medford. Indoor courts include Ashland YMCA, Medford’s Santo Center and Rogue Valley Country Club.

Pickleballers are allotted time at both indoor and outdoor locations shared with other sports and have to set up nets, except at Fichtner-Mainwaring, which has dedicated courts. A variety of lines are painted on the surfaces for the different sports.

“It’s difficult to adapt at the YMCA and Santo with all the different colored lines,” said Dane Roubos, who has played pickleball for a half-dozen years and was at the drone shoot.

Board members meet several times per month. Appointments of officers is expected Dec. 28. Members include Methot, Jim Clark, Norm Eisenberg, Ilene Goldman, Greg Latrop, Kim Marie Murphy and John Riha.

Murphy had no previous racquet sports experience when she started playing pickleball four months ago, but she is so enthused that she is on board.

“I’m shocked at how much I love it,” said Murphy, who was at the shoot. ”I think I like the camaraderie as much as anything.”

Methot is meeting with school officials to see whether there is a way to spread pickleball to other segments of the population. He estimated close to 90 percent of the people on the group's email list are retired.

“It’s a sport that can be played by a lot of different people. It can be players of all ages,” said Riha. “We’re interested in getting younger people as well as doing outreach to schools and other organizations so we can bring families into the sport.”

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission in September approved striping of two additional courts at Lithia Park, bringing the number of courts to six. On the first day of play with the new courts available, more than 30 people showed up, including a family from Norway.

SOPA had already amassed funds by then, so it supplied a new, $170 portable net. Individuals associated with the group then donated five more nets, which replaced four home-built setups.

Ashland lawyer Roger Pearce donated his services to get the group set up as a nonprofit, which will allow it to receive gifts through organizations that have tax-deductible charitable giving arrangements, such as city parks and recreation departments.

Meetings have been held with parks-and-recreation directors and officials in several cities to explain the group’s desires, said Methot.

The group's website, southernoregonpickleball.com, is still under construction by Summer Matsu Media Design, which also shot the drone video that will be posted on the website.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.




From left, Dane Roubos, Stewart Grey, Kim Marie Murphy and Bob Valine play a game of pickleball with a drone flying over the match in Lithia Park earlier this month. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]
Bob Valine makes a hit over the net playing a match of pickleball in Lithia Park. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]