SUNDRE — A volunteer organizer with one of two Sundre Pickleball Club groups using the Sundre Community Centre’s gym said they likely wouldn’t have the opportunity to play if not for the town making the facility available to the public.
“It’s especially great that us seniors can be active and play pickleball. Without that gym, we probably wouldn’t be playing,” said Mary Hertz. “It’s wonderful that the town does open it up at a reasonable rate for users.”
The group got started a few years ago courtesy of an effort spearheaded at the time by the Greenwood Neighbourhood Place Society, she said.
“Greenwood Neighbourhood Place organized it the first year, and then we just picked up the ball and kept going with it because they didn’t have funding anymore.”
In the years since, a fundraising effort that was led by Brenda Salsman eventually resulted this past summer in the resurfacing of the once-deteriorated tennis courts behind Sundre High School.
“What Brenda did was just so wonderful for this community,” said Hertz. “There was times that all four courts were packed with people waiting.”
Ideally, she would like to see the municipality install a couple of permanent nets at the revitalized court. Since the group sets up and removes the nets for each use, some potential players fell through the proverbial cracks this past summer and were unable to participate because the group’s scheduled times didn’t match their available time, she said.
“If we had some permanent nets, I think you’d see even more people,” she said. “I think this summer, (pickleball) just exploded with having that outdoor court.”
Of course while the outdoor court is a welcome addition to local recreational amenities, playing outside year-round isn’t exactly an option. Although some of the club’s diehards played outdoors late into the fall when temperatures were already getting rather crisp, the two groups were grateful to have the opportunity to book some time on Monday and Thursday mornings at the gym starting in November.
“It’s been excellent,” said Hertz. “It was so nice to finally get indoors. I think the town (at first) had a little bit of trouble with COVID and the new Alberta regulations about when they could let us is.”
But those hurdles were overcome and there have been big turnouts even when it’s extremely cold outside, said Carole Shippy, the volunteer organizer of the other group.
When temperatures dropped well below 30 C, Shippy doubted anybody would dare leave the warmth and comfort of their home. But before long, she said people started texting to ask if they’d be playing, and in the end 19 players came out that day.
Shippy helped form the second group as a result of capacity limits at the gym that had already been reached by the first group. Both groups have about 20 players who tend to come out twice a week, she said.
“We’ve got a bunch that would probably play longer if we could. They’re just keeners,” she said.
When the COVID-19 surge in January 2021 forced the closure of the gym, pickleball was temporarily put on hiatus — at least until the old tennis courts were resurfaced, she said.
“We played out all summer long,” said Shippy, expressing gratitude for the efforts of Salsman as well as the town for its support.
“We just enjoyed playing outdoors so much. We always had a lot of people out playing in the summer,” she said.
There was initially a level of doubt as to whether they’d be able to keep playing indoors when the fourth wave prompted the provincial government to introduce new public health measures in September. But it was just a matter of time before the groups were eventually able to develop their own Restriction Exemption Program that enabled them to play in the community centre, she said.
“When we found out that we could actually have a REP, then (the town) got onboard and worked with us to get that in place,” she said, adding the players have all been vaccinated.
Hertz, who roughly five years ago relocated to Sundre from the Brooks-Duchess area, praised community volunteers and town staff for making available many recreational options, whether it be walking, biking, cross-country ski trails and everything else in between.
“It is truly wonderful that Sundre is trying to keep people active. I think it’s very important for people’s (physical and mental) health, to stay active. That’s one great thing about pickleball and the Sundre area, is it’s a great way to meet people and to stay social while staying active,” she said.
“We have found through pickelball, we’ve met a lot of people that have retired to Sundre and couldn’t be happier. That’s what we did. We retired to Sundre and we just have so much to do here that we may not have had if we’d stayed where we were farming.”