In quite a pickle(ball): Sport gains interest

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Todd Mishler | June 23, 2014

The seeds are being planted. Now, Claire Cantwell is hoping that it germinates and blossoms.

Cantwell is the recreation supervisor with the city of Delavan's Parks & Recreation department whose efforts are helping introduce local residents to pickleball, a national craze and arguably the fastest-growing sport in the country.

“We're always looking to add new programming, and somebody asked about it,” Cantwell said. “So, I did some research and contacted the pickleball association, and they put me in contact with Julie (Fiebig). I basically set up the class and lesson plans and we hope to hire an instructor. We will hold demonstrations on June 23 … we don't know how much interest there will be.”

If enough people show up, sessions will be held from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mondays from June 30 through July 21 and Aug. 4 through Aug. 25 at Lauterbach Park.

Fiebig, a Hanover resident, will conduct the Delavan demonstrations and has been a key cog in promoting the sport throughout Rock and Walworth counties.

“About three years ago I started playing again at the Janesville Athletic Club and haven't put my paddle down since,” said Fiebig, a Seattle, Washington, native who has lived in Wisconsin the past 16 years. “I've played over in Whitewater and in Janesville, and I'm trying to get groups going in Fort Atkinson, Elkhorn, Lake Geneva and Delavan.”

Fiebig recently became an ambassador for the national organization and is a leader with the Southwest Wisconsin Pickleball Association.

“I never thought pickleball would bring so much to my life,” she said. “Silly name, but the sport brings people together. It also has brought my family closer together. My dad provides pickleball tournaments/clinics around the nation, my brother runs Pro-Lite Sports and I am a distributor for him and help out with the business marketing.”

And while the game -- a racket sport in which two to four players use solid paddles to hit a wiffle ball over a net on a badminton-size court -- was invented in the mid-1960s as a backyard pastime for children, it has exploded among senior citizens.

However, adults of all ages have been drawn to it in droves, and it was added to the Badger State Summer Games for this June.

“It's not only good exercise and a great sport because it's available to any age, but pickleball is a family game and great socially because you meet new people,” Fiebig said.

Sonya Baden is the recreation coordinator with the city of Beloit's Parks & Leisure Services department who jump-started the program there.

“It started when Julie contacted me last summer,” Baden said. “We decided to do some demonstrations to introduce the game and hopefully build some interest. We started at (Beloit's) Riverside Park and we did a program at Grinnell Hall.”

Terry Bahnub of Turtle Township and Jeff White of Beloit participated recently at Converse School, but they are veterans of the sport and have played a lot in Janesville.

“I go out to Arizona for three or four months every winter, and I learned how to play in 2006 or so,” Bahnub said. “We're in a 55-and-older community that has one court set up for pickleball. But it's so popular and such a fast-growing sport that they can't keep up in providing enough courts. And it's the same way in Florida. But around here, I started in Janesville four or five years ago with (the late) Jim Clark at Marshall Middle School. Now I go up there on Mondays at Riverside Park, which has six striped courts. And the Janesville Athletic Club offers courts weekday mornings.”

White heard about the sport from a co-worker at Beloit Hospital who lives and plays in Rockford.

Read the complete story HERE.

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