Saturday, March 24, 2018
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20180301 Bentsen Grove Pickleball Courts MILLER IMG 4046MISSION - With 130 registered pickleball players and just one indoor court, the folks at Bentsen Grove Resort decided to construct a building to shorten wait times for those who would surround the old court, inside a building known as “the hangar.”

The “hangar” court would also double as a tennis court (sometimes also as a volleyball court) and when the residents used it for pickleball, those waiting to play would act as ball boys, chasing down balls and getting them back in play quickly to decrease the amount of time a game took.

Now, however, Bentsen Grove residents have the Valley mecca of pickleball courts. A 65-foot by 60-foot, air conditioned and heated building that holds two immaculate pickleball courts reminiscent of the hardcourts that the U.S. Open and Australian Open tennis tournaments are played on. There is also a set of bleachers, a cylinder on the side of each net for extra pickleballs, signup sheets and a schedule that determines the times specific leagues and skill levels can play, including when there's open court for anyone to play.

20180301 Bentsen Grove Pickleball Courts MILLER IMG 4052Programs include beginners training, beginners play, ladies only play, men only play, intermediate training, intermediate play and competitive play. There are also open play times available to all skill levels.

Larry Vermeersch, the park's pickleball chairman, said that the sport is the fastest-growing sport in North America and has seen the number of players increase at the park. He added that he expects even more players in the coming years.

“This is good for recruiting new residents,” he said. “It's good for every age group and competition level. The court is smaller than a tennis court so there's not as much running – but it still gets intense.”

While the sport may seem to be new, references claim that the sport began during the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Wash., at the home of former State Representative Joel Pritchard who, in 1972, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and eventually went on to become Lieutenant Governor of Washington.

Returning home from a round of golf with two of his friends, they saw that their families were bored so they tried to set up a badminton net but couldn’t find a shuttlecock. They improvised with a Wiffle ball, lowered the net and made some improvised “paddles.” It has been fine tuned ever since then.

20180301 Bentsen Grove Pickleball Courts MILLER IMG 4059Vermeesch said he heard about the sport being played at a nearby school back in his hometown. He and his wife checked in on it and have been playing ever since. He said when he first started playing at the park they would play outside in an empty lot.

“This is much better now,” he said.

The games are even part of the Golden Age Olympics run the City of McAllen Parks and Recreation Department and is second only to shuffleboard in popularity.

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