Springfield beats out other midwestern cities to host major pickleball regional tournaments in coming years

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 6:46 PM CDT|Updated: May. 12, 2022 at 6:47 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - It’s a sport with a strange name that’s been around a long time but has only risen in popularity in the past decade.

And no, pickleball is not played with a pickle.

“The ball we use is a Wiffle ball,” said Linda Waddell, referring to the perforated, light-weight plastic balls normally associated with a version of baseball.

There are several different versions of how pickleball got its name. Three men invented the game in 1965 with the basic elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. Using a solid racket, players hit the Wiffle ball over a three-foot-tall net in an area about half the size of a tennis court.

One of the inventor’s wives claims she came up with the name after noticing the combination of different sports reminded her of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of the other boats. But the most repeated version is that one of the inventors named the sport after his dog, “Pickles,” who loved to chase the ball around.

Regardless, the sport started gaining traction after it was introduced to a mass audience on ABC’s “Good Morning America” in 2008, and today at both indoor-and-outdoor locations all over the country, including the Dan Kinney Family Center in east Springfield, you’ll find plenty of people who have taken up the sport.

“The first time I played, I laughed and had fun like I did as a kid playing games,” said Teresa Ollis.

“I moved here from Minnesota, and there were maybe 40 people (who showed up to play) at the time I moved here,” said Waddell. “Now we’re probably in the hundreds.”

“It started as a sport where people who played tennis felt they weren’t as mobile anymore, but they could do this, and it was a fun way to be out on the court,” said Mallory Weber, the Facility Coordinator for the Cooper Tennis Complex.

“If you’ve had a knee replacement, you can still get out there and play, and that’s important,” added Joanna Hayes, a pickleball player and long-time volleyball coach and teacher in the area who was part of Ozark’s 2009 state champion volleyball team. “Motion is lotion, and if you’re not moving, you’re not going to make it.”

“It’s just such a great game,” agreed Carl Hedenkamp. “My dad quit playing just recently, and he’s 90 years old.”

The sport’s official governing body, the USA Pickleball Association, now holds tournaments with regional competitions that qualify players for the national championships. And this week, the Springfield Sports Commission announced that the area will be getting one of those regional tournaments in June of 2023 and 2024, when the Cooper Tennis Complex will be hosting the Middle States Regional Championship. The tournament is expected to draw competitors from 30 states, fill up as many as 2,000 hotel rooms and pump in $675,000 in visitor spending.

“We’re extremely fortunate to have gotten the bid over cities like Chicago and Milwaukee,” Weber said. “They want to come to Springfield because of the facilities we have here. It’s an unbelievable opportunity for the community as people will be staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, and seeing all that Springfield has to offer.”

Other pickleball events are going on in the area, including the first-ever Queen City Pickleball Tournament at Cooper in mid-June and, this weekend, a combination tennis-and-pickleball clinic at Meador Park for the youngsters.

“It’s really great to see how pickleball has grown and how much passion there is for it,” Weber said. “And we’re trying to do tennis and pickleball together because Meador Park has courts for both. So on Sunday from 2-4 p.m., it’s a free event for families to bring the kids out. They don’t have to bring any equipment or have played before. They can just come and try out both sports.”

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