FAIRFIELD – The sport of pickleball is sweeping the globe, and that includes leaving its mark in Fairfield.
The city of Fairfield inaugurated four newly paved pickleball courts in Heritage Park on North Ninth Street during a ceremony Sept. 16. They will be known as the LISCO Pickleball Courts courtesy of a $25,000 donation from the company that created courts on an old concrete slab at the park. LISCO president Lance Yedersberger also purchased four new, permanent nets and extended the basketball courts at the park so kids would have a place to skate instead of on the new pickleball courts.
Fairfield Mayor Connie Boyer attended the inauguration ceremony along with Fairfield Park and Rec Director Calvin Todd and Parks Superintendent Pam Craff. They were joined by about 30 pickleball players trying out the freshly minted courts.
The city is making further investments in the park by trimming the trees around the courts and paving the north side of the courts. The estimated cost of those improvements is $15,000. Pickleball players are contributing as well, hoping to raise $10,000 for lights, canopies for shade and possibly renting a portable toilet for the summer months.
Shades of tennis
The game of pickleball is similar to tennis except that it’s played on a badminton-sized court with paddles and a plastic ball. It requires speed, quick reflexes and good hand-eye coordination. It’s become particularly popular among older folks looking for a workout that won’t strain their body.
Fairfield pickleball enthusiast John Viviano said the game was started 50 years ago in the Seattle area by a man who named the sport after his dog, “Pickles.” A small handful of Fairfield residents picked up the sport between five and 10 years ago, and since then it’s exploded. Viviano estimates that about 200 people in town play pickleball.
Yedersberger was among the first to popularize the sport locally. He said he was introduced to it by his friend Rick Sarnat, who played the game on his neighbor’s driveway. Yedersberger had a blast playing it, reporting that it was easier on his body than tennis and more aerobic than table tennis.
Shortly thereafter in 2015, Yedersberger used string and duct tape to paint pickleball lines to form a court on his large driveway. He and Sarnat invited their friends to play on this homemade court, and before long their group had ballooned to 30 people coming out to play each weekend.
Yedersberger decided to go one step further and have two pickleball courts professionally painted on his driveway. He now knows many people in town who have painted courts on their driveway.
“Pickleball is easy to learn and very social,” Yedersberger said. “My wife [Bernie] likes the sound of the pickleball hitting the racket. She calls it a happy sound.”
Viviano said the Yedersbergers’ courts, and their “big-heartedness,” caused the pickleball boom in Fairfield.
“Free lessons from Lance and free food from Bernie. Who could resist?” Viviano said. “It was a huge social event where anyone of any skill level could come and play pickleball in between courses of sliced watermelon, freshly baked cookies and ice buckets filled with natural soda.”
Viviano said he, just like Yedersberger, learned about pickleball from Sarnat. The two of them spend the winter months in Palm Springs, California, where the sport has taken off like a rocket. Viviano said the Palm Springs area once had 1,000 tennis courts but now has 700 because the rest have been converted to pickleball courts. He said 5,000 people attended the National Pickleball Championships last November at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Easy to learn
Why is pickleball growing so fast? Viviano said it’s because the sport has a low barrier to entry. To learn basic tennis skills, a 60-year-old person would need to spend two years practicing, he said. That same person can gain a similar level of skill playing pickleball in two months.
Four pickleball courts can fit into a single tennis court, so the sport is ideal for people with bad hips or knees who can’t cover as much ground.
“Since 90 percent of the people who play pickleball are 50 and older, this is a big thing,” Viviano said.
After the sport gained traction on Fairfield’s driveways, it migrated into the town’s rec centers. Local venture capitalist Peter Jenson donated money to Maharishi International University to refurbish its rec center, which allowed the university to create nine new indoor pickleball courts. The city’s park and rec department painted lines on one of its basketball courts at the Cambridge Recreation Center to create three more pickleball courts.
Heritage Park transformation
Fairfield resident Leslie Marks, another avid pickleballer, said she frequently played at the MIU rec center before the pandemic forced it to close. Over the summer, she and others started playing on a concrete slab in Heritage Park that used to be a skate park. They brought portable nets and drew lines to create three pickleball courts.
Viviano was playing on those makeshift courts in June when Lance and Bernie stopped to say hello. Lance informed him that he had hired a company to redo the courts on his driveway, but because of the pandemic, he couldn’t invite very many people to play at his courts. Instead, he decided to donate money on behalf of his company to the city so residents would have a place to play pickleball outside.
Marks said the local players are in the process of forming a pickleball club, and that so far, 135 people have expressed an interest in joining. Viviano said Ken Ross and Terry Smith have formed a group called Friends of Fairfield Pickleball, and are creating a website. He said free lessons, tournaments and other activities are being planned.
Many pickleball players have a tennis background, but not all. Marks, for instance, had no sports background, but was able to pick up the sport easily, and quickly became hooked. Marks has made many new friends through pickleball not just in Fairfield but through her travels as well. She played the sport during her recent trip to Australia.
“Pickleball is easy to learn and builds confidence and self-esteem as you master skills,” she said. “It is known as an age equalizer with young and old at the same skill level able to play a challenging match together.”