SUNDRE — A Bergen-area pickleball player and coach who was keen to get involved with the local club after new life was breathed into the deteriorated tennis courts behind the high school says the sport’s popularity has surged since he first started playing years ago.
“It’s exploded,” said Chris Kay, who on the evening of Friday, July 23 joined about 20 people who gathered at the new courts.
Fortunately, wildfire smoke wafting over from B.C. wildfires lingered relatively lightly in the air while a cool breeze offered some relief.
Born and raised in the Water Valley area, Kay said during a brief pause from playing that he first picked up a pickleball racket about 10 years ago.
“I’ve been playing for a decade,” he said.
Making a full-time living from the sport as both a player and a coach, Kay said he’s travelled across the country.
“Most of what I do is with more advanced players that are preparing for tournaments,” he said. “I almost never do beginner introduction stuff.”
However, he enthusiastically made an exception upon learning about the effort to introduce courts so close to home, which was largely spearheaded by Brenda Salsman, who played a pivotal fundraising and organizational role.
“It’s so exiting,” said Kay. “When I heard that Brenda was putting all that work in to get courts built here in Sundre, I jumped right away.”
So, he reached out to connect with Salsman to offer support by way of helping players build the sport’s foundation of basic rules and strategies.
“Once there’s a large number of people playing the right way, things just take off,” he said, adding that’s been evident with Friday evening drop-ins drawing turnouts of as many as 16 to 20 people.
“No one was under 50 when I started playing. And now, I’m the old man in a lot of the groups I play. That’s a huge change — the game’s grown ten-fold since I started.”