As pickleball's popularity continues to explode, ABQ plans to expand the number of city courts - Albuquerque Journal

As pickleball’s popularity continues to explode, ABQ plans to expand the number of city courts

Mick Gorospe, 62, zeroes in on the ball while playing pickleball at Manzano Mesa Pickleball Complex. (Chancey Bush/Journal)

Mayor Tim Keller’s father turned him on to pickleball, that oddly-named game that has been described as a combination of tennis, badminton and ping-pong.

“It is so accessible and easy to learn,” the mayor said. “You can learn it in five minutes – especially if you have ever played any racket sport. Even ping-pong. I grew up playing racquetball with my dad.”

The short learning curve is one reason pickleball, which can trace its origins back to 1965, is the fastest growing sport in America and also, according to Keller, Albuquerque.

But there’s more to it than that. It can be played by people well into their senior years.

“My dad is over 80 and plays three days a week,” Keller said. He said pickleball is easier on knees and shoulders than games such as tennis, racquetball and handball.

The mayor also noted that pickleball is well suited to Albuquerque’s weather.

“We have all this sunshine here,” he said. “If it rains, it only lasts five minutes.”

For all those reasons, the city announced recently it has projects in the works that will eventually add 48 pickleball courts to the 100-plus now available on city properties.

“What we are doing is making sure there is a pickleball close to everyone in Albuquerque,” Keller said. “Residents of all ages will soon have expanded opportunity to participate in this popular sport that promotes a healthy lifestyle.”

Some of the new courts, like some of the ones already in existence, will be dual-use courts, striped for both tennis and pickleball. A pickleball court is the same size as a doubles badminton court. Four pickleball courts will fit in one tennis court.

The first of the expansion projects will add 15 pickleball courts, lighting, shade and a restroom to the Manzano Mesa Pickleball Complex, 501 Elizabeth St. SE. There are currently 18 pickleball courts, six of them lighted, at Manzano Mesa now. This project, which went out to bid last month, has an estimated cost of $3.5 million and is projected to start this fall.

Another major project will add eight dedicated pickleball courts, lighting, shade structures and a program building to Ventana Ranch Park, 10000 Universe Blvd. NW. That $1.5 million project is expected to get started later this year.

Pickleball courts will also be cropping up in at facilities that are being constructed, or undergoing renovation, or are slated for expansion.

Qing Sun, 27, prepares to serve the ball during pickleball play at the Manzano Mesa Pickleball Complex. Rules require all serves to be underhand. (Chancey Bush/Journal)

All of this sounds good to Larry Lite, an Albuquerque pickleball enthusiast and advocate for additional pickleball facilities.

Lite said he and his wife and about 14 others got involved in pickleball in Albuquerque in 2009. He is a member of the ABQ Pickleball Club and the nonprofit New Mexico-Arizona Pickleball Association. The latter gives out grants to schools and first responders to pay for pickleball equipment.

“What makes pickleball unique is that you can have kids from 6 or 7 up to people in their 90s playing and playing together,” he said. “So families can play. The other thing is that when you make mistakes, you laugh about it. When you play recreational pickleball it is a lot of fun.”

Lite, 74, says he plays pickleball four or five times a week.

Mayor Keller, on the other hand, says he has only played the game about five times, most of those times with his father.

But earlier this month, the mayor and Dave Simon, the city Parks and Recreation director, engaged in a game aimed at aiding Dean Matt, a man traveling across the country in an effort to set a world record of 48 pickleball games played in 48 states in less than 48 days.

LEFT: Callie Warren, 33, returns the ball during a pickleball game at Manzano Mesa Pickleball Complex. (Chancey Bush/Journal)

The game took place at the Manzano Mesa pickleball courts. Keller said he teamed up with Matt, thinking that would give him an edge.

“But it turns out (Matt) had only being playing for a year,” the mayor said. “He was not a ringer. Dave Simon got the best pickleball player in Albuquerque (John “Juan” David). They destroyed us.”

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