Pickleball breathes new life into Hathaway Park

Seniors like oddly named sport’s smaller courts, social environment

Two doubles teams volley during a pickleball game on Washougal's Hathaway Park Pickleball Courts.

Pickleball players rotate courts after each game at Hathaway Park in Washougal. The sport has exploded in popularity in recent years and was invented in the 1960s by a former Washington state Lt. Governor.

The social aspect of pickleball attacts many seniors to the Columbia River Pickleball Club, which plays each morning at Hathaway Park in Washougal.

Mike Wolfe says Pickleball always puts a smile on his face. The retired Los Angeles firefighter, who moved to Washougal in 2002, lobbied the city to create the current courts at Hathaway Park.

Every morning, seven days a week, the parking lot at Hathaway Park in Washougal is packed with pickleball players.

The Washougal space wasn’t always filled with well-cared-for pickleball courts. In fact, before Washougal resident Mike Wolfe pushed the city to make a change in 2009, worn-out tennis courts occupied the now vibrant park.

“In 2009, we created a temporary (pickleball) court here, and the city let us do it because the tennis courts were unusable,” Wolfe said. “It took five more years of lobbying the city, but in 2014, the city built these wonderful courts, and the rest is history.”

Many say pickleball is a combination of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. Players use a paddle that resembles an oversized ping-pong paddle, and use a hard plastic ball that is very similar to a wiffle ball.

The court is about one-third the size of a standard tennis court. With less ground to cover, it is perfect for players of all ages and athletic abilities. Many seniors enjoy the smaller court size and the social atmosphere surrounding the sport, which is now played all over the world by more than 2.5 million people, according to the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA).

Local seniors enjoy pickleball scene

About 150 pickleball players, mostly seniors over the age of 55, play regularly at the six Hathaway Park Pickleball Courts.

Most mornings, at least 50 players gather to play doubles games on the Washougal courts.

Vancouver resident Ron Schroeder, a retiree who played high school tennis, made his first trip to Hathaway Park after reading about the Columbia River Pickleball Club online.

“I was a little surprised to see so many people out here,” Schroeder said. “Even though I’m out of shape, this is a blast, and I know it will be a fun way to improve my physical fitness.”

Washougal resident Lynda Boesel lives two blocks from Hathaway Park. A few years ago, Boesel sat down and watched the pickleball players. She had never heard of the sport, but liked what she witnessed. When someone told her to pick up a paddle, she obliged.

“Now I come here to play five times a week,” Boesel said. “This game has taken over my life in a good way.”

Pickleball players say it’s easy to get hooked on the game, because pickleball is one of those rare sports that let new players have fun right away.

“It’s fabulous for seniors, because there is less ground to cover than tennis and the ball can’t hurt you,” Wolfe said.

Winning is almost irrelevant at the Hathaway Pickleball Courts, where players not only compete with long rallies at the net, but follow up the competitive games with friendly conversation as they wait at tables together for the next game to start.

Dave Bonner has played pickleball for three years in Washougal and said he enjoys how the game rewards finesse as much as it does power and quickness.

“Teenagers who are normally so fast they should kill us seniors on the court can’t do it in pickleball because accuracy counts for a lot in this sport,” Bonner said.

Sport named for dog, not condiment

Pickleball was invented in Washington state in 1965 by Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Bainbridge Island who served as Washington’s Lieutenant Governor from 1989 through 1997.

Pritchard’s home had an old badminton court, but one day, when Pritchard and his buddy couldn’t find rackets or a birdie, they decided to improvise with ping-pong paddles and a wiffle ball — and a new sport was born.

“They named it pickleball because Pritchard had a dog named Pickles who would keep chasing the ball,” Wolfe explained.

Today, there are more than 4,000 public pickleball courts listed on the USAPA’s “places to play” map.

Want to learn more about the oddly named, but increasingly popular sport?

The Columbia River Pickleball Club will host the Washougal River’s Edge Pickleball Tournament this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 18-19, on the Hathaway Park pickleball courts. For more information about signing up for the tournament or playing on the Washougal courts, visit columbiariverpicklegball.org.