Apache Junction to celebrate opening of pickleball courts with free clinic

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About three years ago, Gary Gartner was approached by two ladies who wanted the city of Apache Junction to offer a dedicated court on which to play pickleball.


Mr. Gartner, recreation manager II of sports for Apache Junction Parks and Recreation, recalled the moment during a phone interview June 11.


At the time of the women’s request, the city had only one pickleball court but it was only a painted court on a tennis court and players had to use the tennis net which stands taller than a pickleball net, Mr. Gartner said.


He’d consider it, he recalled he said, if the ladies — Vera Walters and Debi Glogower — could produce proof that there was enough interest from residents to warrant dedicated courts for the sport that was growing in popularity in Arizona, he said.


“They came back with 14-15 pages of signatures in favor of a pickleball court, and each paper had about 30 signatures on it. It was quite a surprise to see that many names,” he said.


It took three years to fulfill the ladies’ wish, but on Saturday, June 21, the city will host a grand opening for its four, dedicated outdoor pickleball courts at the east end of Prospector Park, 3015 N. Idaho Road. Ms. Walters will attend the event; however, Ms. Glogower will be competing in a pickleball tournament outside Arizona, Mr. Gartner said.


Held in partnership with Friends of Apache Junction, the parks and recreation department will hold a free pickleball clinic for all ages at 8 a.m. followed by open play at 9 a.m.


Friends of Apache Junction is a nonprofit group that is dedicated to enhancing programs, facilities and services of the community, according to its website.


Experienced pickleball players have volunteered to instruct the clinic for beginners and advanced players, according to a press release. Balls and paddles will be available for use. Concessions will be sold as a fundraiser for Friends of Apache Junction, according to the release.


Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines many elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, according to the USA Pickleball Association website. Played with a paddle and 2.75- to 3-inch plastic ball, the sport was created for all ages and skill levels in 1965 by three dads who lived near Seattle, Washington, as a way to keep their kids from being bored during the summer, according to the website.


A pickleball court is the same size as a doubles badminton court and measures 20-feet by 44-feet, according to the website. In pickleball, the same court is used for both singles and doubles play. The net height is 36 inches at the sidelines and 34 inches in the middle.


Tennis courts are 78 feet wide, according to Court Dimensions. A tennis net is 3 feet tall at the center, according to the site.


The courts were made possible as part of a $305,650 renovation project at the park, which included the transformation of one tennis court into four pickleball courts, the scheduled resurfacing of two other tennis courts, the construction of Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant sidewalks and smaller maintenance projects at the park, Nick Blake, parks superintendent for the city, said during a phone interview June 11.


The money for the project was part of the city’s 2013-14 parks and recreation budget and came from the town’s park development fees, Mr. Blake said.


“The timing worked out,” Mr. Gartner said. “The surfacing on tennis courts had gotten pretty bad and we needed to resurface anyway. It was more cost-effective to create the pickleball courts while doing construction since the lighting was already there and the only additional costs would be fencing and nets.”


Mr. Blake’s invoice from contractor Val West Construction did not break out the cost of the latter items, Mr. Blake said. The total cost for the pickleball courts was $56,000, which included labor, fencing, netting, concrete and resurfacing, he said.


The city also offers four indoor pickleball courts, which were opened about a year ago inside the Apache Junction Multi-generational Center, 1035 N. Idaho Road, Mr. Gartner said. They are available for open play noon-3:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, DeeDee Goodson, a recreation leader for the MGC, said during a phone interview June 11. Additional play will be available 5-8:30 p.m. Wednesdays starting in August, Ms. Goodson said.


Larry Brown helped develop the pickleball program at the MGC, he said during a phone interview June 11. The 64-year-old east Mesa resident began playing as a way to stay busy after retiring from work in 2010. He saw it listed in the parks and recreation offerings in Simi Valley, California, where he was living at the time, and decided to check it out, he said.


The pickleball players at the Simi Valley recreation center did not allow him to be a casual observer, he said. They drew him into the game and after a few hours, he was hooked, he said.


Mr. Brown said the average adult can play a “decent game” after about 10 minutes of starting the game, noting it takes longer to learn the game’s nuances. He said many players like that the volleys can include 10, 12 and even 13 hits back and forth.


“People love that there’s lots of play,” he said.


There are 124 places to play pickleball in Arizona registered on the USA Pickleball Association website; seven are in Apache Junction. There are two public sites registered — at Prospector Park and the MGC. In addition, there are five private sites, all in RV resorts.


They are: La Hacienda RV Resort, 1797 W. 28th Ave., with two outdoor courts; Pueblo Park, 201 E. Southern Ave., two outdoor courts; Roadhaven Resort, 1000 S. Idaho Road, two outdoor courts; Sunrise RV Resort, 1403 W. Broadway Road, one outdoor court; and Superstition Mountain Resort, 200 E. Southern Ave.


Some La Hacienda RV Resort residents moved there because the community offers pickleball courts, resort manager Joyce Tinseth said during a phone interview June 11.


“I do know people who have selected the park because we have pickleball. It has been a good attraction to get residents,” she said.


Ms. Tinseth has worked for the resort since it opened in 1986. It added pickleball courts in 2004 as part of a summer improvement project, and the fenced and lighted courts have been a big draw for residents, she said.


“We have avid pickleball players here. They play morning and night,” she said.


The resort has about 30 regular players, who invite people from other parks to play, Mr. Tinseth said.


“Playing pickleball builds great camaraderie among the players. You can be part of a group. It makes you feel you belong and builds friendships, and helps people get to know their neighbors. They like the competition,” Ms. Tinseth said.


Apache Junction was very astute to convert one tennis court into four pickleball courts, Mr. Brown said. He plays the game in Prospector Park during the early mornings and late nights to beat the midday heat, he said.


“It might be 100 degrees after the sun goes down but it doesn’t feel like it,” he said. “This fall there will be lots of people playing. I hope we can have tournaments.”


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