Idleness is quickly detected at weekly pickleball gatherings at Cope Park.
The games go by quick — sometimes wrapping up in under 10 minutes — and losers must surrender their spot on the court if there’s someone waiting to play on the sidelines. If one’s near the vicinity of the courts, they’re expected to play.
“You taking the rest of the day off over there?” Bob Young says, teasing Susan Rael, standing on opposite side of the blue courts in the shade.
Since their opening last year, Cope Park’s tennis courts have become the home base of Juneau’s burgeoning pickleball community. The group meets every rain-free Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the summer on the blue courts, assembling anywhere between one to three nets depending on the turnout. By 5:30 p.m. on this particularly Wednesday, over 15 players have arrived, some coming straight from work.
“It’s very much an American sport,” Keith Murry, a state worker in the Division of Personnel and Labor Relations and avid pickleball player, said. “We took bits and pieces from different sports and turned it into one that’s easy to learn, easy to have fun with and we’re now sharing with the rest of the world.”
Aspects of badminton, tennis and ping pong all found their way into the sport, said Murry, 57, who started playing one year ago through a class offered by Juneau Community Schools, an educational extension of the Juneau School District.
“I talked to my friend Susan into trying it with me and found that I really enjoyed it,” Murry said. “I’ve not really been much for any sports before — in school I was marching band — but I needed something to keep active and to meet more folks and this has been a real benefit for me.”
Now, Murry teaches those same pickleball classes after taking the mantle from Sue Warner and Barney Norwick, two of the chief pickleball originators in town. A few years ago, Norwick began organizing pickleball games in the covered play areas outside the elementary schools, and the craze slowly spread.
“It’s addicting and it doesn’t take anything to learn how to play,” Norwick, 75, said.
Eventually, the pickleball players gravitated away from the covered areas because of the hazards of playing on smooth concrete. Now, players get together primarily at Cope Park, the Juneau Arts and Culture Center (JACC) and The Alaska Club in the Mendenhall Valley.
“Someone pulled a tendon really badly and if there’s any bit of water on it, you slide, so those weren’t very safe,” Warner said of the concrete at the covered areas.
Warner thinks there’s room for the city to expand recreational programming for seniors.
“That’s our big push is to have this community look at that, not just pickleball but all sorts of senior activities,” Warner said. “You might go back and look at websites of Kenai or Fairbanks and go (to) senior activities and they’ll have a big calendar of activities for seniors and we don’t really have that.”
The city is hosting a five-week pickleball mixer starting next month. The games will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursdays from July 18-Aug. 15 at the Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School gym.
Individuals will be paired up with a new partner each week, and those who make it to at least four sessions will be eligible for the prizes at the end of the season. Registration is available at the Parks and Recreation office or online. Each night is $5 for two hours of play, or play all five nights for $20. Equipment will be available.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or email@example.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.