YAKIMA, Wash. — The unmistakable sound of ball hitting paddle can be heard at Franklin Park most mornings and evenings this summer.
It’s heavier than a ping pong smash, more cracking than a tennis forehand, and certainly louder than a badminton rally. Pickleball incorporates all three sports, and it’s quickly become a popular activity at the park’s formerly dilapidated tennis courts thanks to a partnership between the city and the Yakima Pickleball Club.
“It’s so fun,” said Sheon Quaempts, one of the club’s founding members. “It’s nothing like any sport that I play. It’s just very special.”
Like many others, she began playing on the indoor courts at the Yakima Tennis Club or at Kissel Park, where they used the tennis nets and put down tape for lines. Then on January 31, the club’s founding members met with Yakima Parks and Recreation manager Ken Wilkinson to discuss raising money for permanent courts, or at least painted lines.
He embraced the idea and they formed a plan to turn three of Franklin Park’s rarely used tennis courts into eight pickleball courts. In short order, the club formed a 501©7 and raised more than $10,000 to complement another $10,000 from the city’s parks capitol fund.
Construction began the first week of June and they were ready for pickleball by July 16, thanks in part to more than 500 volunteer hours. City staff put in at least 500 hours as well, learning about the sport and its 20 foot by 44 foot courts with a net hung three feet high on each side as they went along.
“(Volunteers) worked their tails off and so did park maintenance,” Wilkinson said. “What’s really cool is our staff got trained in how to resurface tennis courts.”
That knowledge could lead to substantial savings when city employees resurface the tennis courts without contractors at Kissel, something Wilkinson hopes will happen this fall. Those courts and others at Davis provide plenty of opportunities for tennis players, who rarely use the old courts at Franklin.
Already groups of 30 people or more show up to play pickleball, which allows for more friendly banter since players are closer together. Doubles especially doesn’t depend as much on hitting hard or running, making it a much easier game to learn and play.
“We did a couple lessons but whoever comes new, we are very welcome to teaching,” Quaempts said. “We don’t mind at all.”
During its regular times the club generally brings extra demo paddles for newcomers eager to try the sport. Club president Bob Guchee said most players tend to be older, especially in the mornings, but they welcome all ages.
Former Yakima Tennis Club pro Tyson McGuffin is among those eager to dispel the myth that pickleball doesn’t appeal to young people. The 29-year-old learned the sport from Bill Schott of Yakima in 2015, turned pro six months later, and eventually became the No. 1 player in the world.
McGuffin recalled facing some initial resistance to his efforts to spread pickleball in the community where he lived for six years. But he managed to convince the Yakima Tennis Club board to let him start teaching the sport 20 hours a week until he moved to Hayden, Idaho in 2017.
“I think it’s an easy racquet sport progression for kids wanting to play tennis,” McGuffin said. “The whiffleball never really bounces up above their head, so it’s easier for kids to play.”
In his travels around the country teaching the sport created on Bainbridge Island, McGuffin’s seen plenty of cities creating new pickleball courts. Yakima joined the trend with help from significant contributors like Precy Tamaki, an avid tennis player who recently learned pickleball.
She’s looking forward to more additions, including benches, lights and structures for more shade. Guchee hopes the facility can host one or two tournaments through the USA Pickleball Association and pickleballtournaments.com next spring.
That would be an ideal way to raise more money, Wilkinson said, noting it could go towards a new perimeter fence. He’ll be part of the Sept. 11 grand opening for the courts to celebrate the realization of the club’s vision.
“They’ve really come together as a community,” Wikinson said. “We partner with as many people as we can to provide as many recreational opportunities as possible.”