The game known as pickleball is getting lots attention in Mountain View lately, both from swelling numbers of new players as well as some vocal naysayers.
By some measures, it's the fastest growing sport in the country. Pickleball plays much like a scaled-down version of tennis with players using wooden paddles to hit a Wiffle ball back and forth over a net. While the game can be played by pretty much anyone, its most ardent fans tend to be seniors, since the game doesn't put a hard strain on the joints or require heavy sprinting, said Monica Williams, a 73-year-old Mountain View resident.
Williams described herself as a tennis player for over 50 years, but said she was instantly hooked when she first tried pickleball about two years ago in Arizona.
"I played for three hours, and I haven't picked up my tennis racket since," she said. "It's that addicting!"
Coming back to the Bay Area, Williams became something of a local evangelist for the sport. She became a regular player at a pickleball club at Mitchell Park in Palo Alto. Starting around last November, she decided to help spread the game to Mountain View. She approached the city's Park and Recreation officials, and got permission to teach free weekly lessons on Wednesdays through the city's Senior Center.
Early on, her group set up their nets at the Rengstorff Park handball courts. That provided enough room for only eight people to play, and her club quickly outgrew the spot. Earlier this year, the city allowed the pickleball players to relocate and use two of the park's eight tennis courts.
Since it requires a much smaller space, Williams and her group can fit multiple pickleball matches on a single tennis court. Every week, they would lay down tape to designate boundaries to squeeze in six pickleball-sized courts.
But this is when they crossed the line, so to speak. Some tennis players at Rengstorff Park were not happy to see their courts taken over by an upstart racket game.
Meeting on Monday at the park, Norma Jean and Bob Anderson -- two avid tennis players -- described pickleball as a nuisance for those using the courts as originally intended. Armed with a stack of photos, they pointed to scuff marks and tape scraps left by the pickleball games, saying it was defacing the courts. But worst of all was the noise -- the pounding sound of Wiffle balls smacking against paddles was ruining the tranquility of tennis, Bob said.
"The racket from this game is incredible. If you're playing tennis, you can't concentrate from this cacophony," he said. "They're marking up these courts and changing the use for everybody."
The Andersons and others say the tennis courts should be left for the tennis players. They have nothing against pickleball, they said, but they want the city or Williams' group to build separate courts for that game.
Williams said it would be great to have dedicated pickleball courts, but that won't happen anytime soon. In the meantime, she said her club has every right to enjoy the public tennis courts, especially during non-peak hours in the middle of the week.
"We're asking to use two out of the 35 courts in Mountain View that taxpayers paid for," she said. "It's only right and fair to allow seniors to utilize those courts. It doesn't make sense not to."
Williams points out that Mountain View is lagging on accommodating the growing pickleball trend. The 2015 Sports & Fitness Association's Participation Report tallied almost 2.5 million people playing pickleball nationwide. Of those players, about 68 percent are over the age of 60, making it a rare sport being spearheaded by an older demographic.
Mountain View is hardly the first community to see this kind of face-off between the two racket sports. In an article last year called "Pickleball and Tennis: Can They Be Friends?" Tennis Industry Magazine noted that two sports were often feuding for space. National pickleball advocates have been promoting the idea of painting new lines on tennis courts as a way to make them usable for either activity. But this push has scant support from the tennis community because they see the extra lines as a distraction that detracts from their game.
In fact, Mountain View will soon broach this debate. City recreation officials say they are looking into painting permanent pickleball lines on some of the Rengstorff Park tennis courts. Recreation Manager John Marchant said this plan is being considered at the staff level for the two tennis court currently being used by the pickleball players. So far, Marchant said his department has not received any major complaints about the plan from local tennis clubs, although he pointed out that he did not personally perform this outreach.
"We heard this group was interested in trying (pickleball) here, and we wanted to start small and find out what the local interest was," he said. "Now it's a matter of meeting the needs of the community, given the numbers we're seeing."
Email Mark Noack at email@example.com