GLOCESTER – Paula Bissell says that right now, she’s hesitant to tell others about places in Glocester to play pickleball because the available space for games is so limited.
Now Bissell, and a group comprised of other local fans of the sport, hope to change that, and in an appeal to members of the Glocester Town Council this week, she made the case for an increase in dedicated facilities.
“The potential to grow the sport is huge,” Bissell told councilors at their meeting on Thursday, Jan. 5. “I think it brings community together, and it brings intergenerational folks together.”
A racquet sport combining tennis, ping pong and badminton, pickleball is a phenomena growing in popularity not just locally, but across the country. With 5 million players nationwide, pickleball was named the fastest growing sport in America in 2022 by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, and participation saw a 40 percent increase since 2020.
“It’s huge,” Bissell said. “It’s gaining popularity because of a few things.”
Bissell noted that pickleball is a low-impact sport that’s easy to learn, and there’s low entry cost for a person to participate.
“It’s very social,” she said. “It appeals to a wide range of people, from young people up to senior citizens.”
Unlike tennis, which requires a foursome, pickleball, she noted, is usually open play.
“You just show up with a racquet and you are in the game,” Bissell said.
“The problem with all this growth is: there’s not enough places to play,” she added.
Locally, an app used to connect around 90 players includes 30 Glocester residents, and Bissell said members can often be found using the tennis courts at Glocester Memorial Park. The two courts, she noted, were re-striped to include pickleball boundaries three or four years ago.
“Pretty much any day that the temperature is over 40, you’re going to see a group of us playing out there,” said Bissell, adding of the courts, “They’re ok, but they’re not optimal.”
The courts, she noted, are set up for tennis, with nets that are taller and wider than those used in pickleball. Another problem, she said, is the amount of open court.
“We’re chasing balls constantly, which takes away from the game,” Bissell said. “It’s a lot more fun to play on regulation courts with regulation nets.”
Over the past three years, Bissell noted she’s seen only two groups utilizing those courts for tennis. Meanwhile, a group of regular pickleball players have a long wait times between games.
“We want to grow the sport in Chepachet, but we hesitate to even tell people about it because our two courts are too crowded,” she said. “It’s kind of like a secret. I don’t want to tell anyone to come to Chepachet to play because it’s going to impact our group.”
The sport has also grown in surrounding communities. Burrillville opened its first dedicated pickleball court at Oakland Park in Mapleville in 2020 and in North Smithfield, lessons began last summer utilizing tennis courts at the high school that were re-striped for the sport last year.
Bissell noted her group has already gone before Glocester’s Recreation Committee with the hope to create four new dedicated pickleball courts, noting that the under-utilized Winsor Park might make a good location.
“Anybody who wants to play tennis could still play tennis,” she said.
The town, she noted, could offer beginner clinics and tournaments.
“It would bring money into the town,” Bissell said. “It would make the game more enjoyable for more people.”
Bissell and other players have formed a committee with plans to visit the council with a formal proposal.
“It’s just a great sport in these times,” she said. “I think it could be a great asset to this town.”