As pickleball grows more popular, community centers and private facilities are catching up

The courts at the Shawnee Civic Centre were filled one snowy Monday morning in December.

The sport of pickleball has grown quite popular in recent years in Johnson County. Some cities have reconfigured spaces in community centers and at parks to accommodate pickleball. Meanwhile, residents are enjoying a sport that keeps them active and connected in their communities.

On weekday mornings at the Shawnee Civic Centre — even during the snowy week earlier this month — the courts are bustling with activity. Pickleball paddles stack up on tables as teams wait for their turn to play. The wait time of 20 or 30 minutes might turn some people away, but players use the time to catch up with each other.

“It doesn’t matter where you are, it can be overcrowded,” Norma Cosgrove of Overland Park.

Pam Oswald, facilities supervisor at the Shawnee Civic Centre, said they taped the floors for seven years before painting permanent stripes for four pickleball courts in August 2018.

“We’re kind of maxed out,” she said.

Last month, Shawnee resident John Coulter suggested the Westbrooke Green developers add a pickleball facility to their project at 75th and Quivira. He said he’s had to leave Johnson County a few times to find an open court to play.

Brown Park in Merriam has an updated basketball court and new pickleball court. Photo credit city of Merriam.

Lenexa parks and recreation staff are seeing similar rising trends at their facilities. Logan Wagler, deputy director of parks and recreation in Lenexa, said that less than half a decade ago, pickleball wasn’t even mentioned as part of the city’s recreation master plan. But fast-forward to present day, pickleball has become the city’s biggest and most used program the city has.

“That says a lot about how much the sport has grown, how much its popularity has caught on, not only within Lenexa but within the metro and even beyond,” Wagler said. “All of our tennis courts have pickleball lines painted on them, and we get more rentals and requests to go out and play pickleball on our tennis courts than we do for tennis.”

Lenexa offers pickleball courts at the Lenexa Rec Center at City Center and the community center in Old Town. The city is also converting old tennis courts at Bois D’Arc Park into the city’s first dedicated pickleball courts, set for completion in late spring 2020.

A team of pickleball players enjoy their friendship off the courts as well.

“We’ve seen a huge growth in the demand, in the amount of people that want to play,” Wagler said. “But I’d take it a step further and say we’ve seen a huge growth in the types of people that want to play. It’s a multi-generational sport; we see grandparents playing with their grandkids, teenagers playing, adults playing. And it’s very popular with adult seniors.”

Community centers in Overland Park, Mission and Merriam, as well as Will Shields 68’s Fitness and Sports Training in Overland Park and City Center Fitness in Lenexa City Center, have started offering court space for pickleball players. And a new pickleball facility, Pickle Bar + Kitchen, is set to open in fall 2020 at 135th and Switzer in Overland Park.

“Up to about a year and a half ago, we had no dedicated courts,” said Mickey Collins, an ambassador of the USA Pickleball Association and pickleball player from Lenexa. “Now we’re starting to see products in Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart. It’s like compounding interest. It just kept slowly growing and compounding on itself.”

Many players of them have met through pickleball and enjoy spending time together off the courts as well. Cosgrove said she comes back for the newfound friendships.

“And you get pretty good exercise,” she added.