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Pickleball gripping the region

Pickleball is growing faster than many expected in Windsor-Essex County.

“It's huge and I don't think any of us really understood the kind of impact that pickleball was going to have,” said Beth Gignac, director of Community and Recreation Services.

Registration for the Tecumseh Pickleball Association (TPA) has blown up. “There's too many people showing up to play,” said TPA Vice President Joanne Neilson. “People couldn't get court times so now we've changed into a monster that we're trying to figure out how to best handle.”

Attendance was uncharacteristically low Thursday, perhaps in part because of a large international tournament the club is hosting this weekend at Lacasse Park.

“Normally this place is just off the wall with people. Lots and lots of people,” a player casually remarked.

The growth of the TPA has forced the board to cap the number of members allowed to join. In 2019, they had 95 members. That number is just under 800 now.

The club, which plays outside at the Zekelman Pickleball Complex, also had to stop giving beginners lesson, but that is only for the time being.

“It was too much so we had to close off our beginner lessons which is very sad for the people still waiting for lessons,” Neilson said.

“Over these last two years, it's just nuts and I think it's because of the influx of young people,” said Janet Marion, whose young granddaughter has already swung a paddle.

Young players like Erik Hodgson have embraced the game. He said he will be at Lacasse Park to watch the tournament starting Friday.

“Watching people who are really good at pickelball play pickelball is just awesome,” Hodgson said. “Some of the stuff they do is just crazy. It's so fun to watch competitive pickleball.”

About 300 players from across the province and five American states will be competing this weekend in 27 divisions. The tournament is a fundraiser for the club, which is trying to keep pace with the demand for court time.

“Our big dream is to have five indoor courts right here at this facility so we can play 12-hours a day,” said TPA President Melinda Hebert.

Gignac, who has fallen in love with the game, said many small town communities are not flush with cash to fund big amenities like a pickleball arena.

“We're really hoping that the province of Ontario, for example, and philanthropists can help step in the space and provide all communities in Ontario with some additional cash, particularly small ones, to build this kind of infrastructure,” said Gignac.

The TPA is working on a plan to help create a dedicated indoor facility for the intergenerational game.

“We're creating a business plan so we can present it to anybody interested in sponsoring that type of a thing,” said Neilson. “The growth in pickleball, it will sustain its own independent location.” Top Stories

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