Pickleball

Employees George Blasko (left) and Luke Molnar, from Laurel Asphalt, of Windber, work on applying patch to the soon-to-be Windber pickleball courts along 17th Street. 

Windber Borough residents will soon have a place of their own to play a popular sport with a peculiar name: pickleball.

Work is underway this week to transform two repair-needy tennis courts into regulation-sized playing surfaces for pickleball.

Following a nationwide trend, the tennis-style sport has been growing in popularity in the borough – with indoor leagues now an annual draw at the Windber Community Building, Borough Manager Jim Furmanchik said.

But pickleball players haven’t had an outdoor option until now, he said.

“To our knowledge, there are only a few dedicated pickleball facilities in our region and we think this will really add something to the community,” he said.

To Furmanchik, the project solves two problems.

The tennis courts alongside 17th Street have been deteriorating for years and are seldom used, creating a bit of a blight in the neighborhood, he said.

The $10,800 project approved by council in June will change that, Furmanchik added.

“They’re going to be professional-quality,” he said. “It’s going to look nice.”

Quite a pickle

Pickleball’s roots are traced back to the ’60s – and three dads from Washington state are credited with inventing it as a solution to their kids’ summer blues.

They used a badminton court, ping pong paddles and a whiffle ball-style ball for the game and the equipment used today is similar, relying on a lowered, badminton-style net.

According to the USA Pickleball Association – the sport’s governing body – there are several stories about where the sport got its odd name, including the slang term for a boat filled with leftover oarsmen.

Whatever the case, the name is catching on across the nation.

Bolstered by an estimated 3.1 million participants today, the Pickleball Association has reported a 650% increase in its membership since 2013.

Work continuing

“It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the country,” said Laurel Asphalt General Manager John Rugg.

Rugg’s company developed pickleball courts in Ligonier two years ago and is handling the Windber project, which is expected to wrap up this month.

“The folks at Ross Mountain Park (at Ligonier) put them in, thinking that the older crowd would use it. But the way it’s turned out, a lot of younger people are playing, too,” he said.

Part of the draw is that the game moves at a slower pace than tennis, enabling folks to compete regardless of whether they have tennis-level conditioning, Rugg and Furmanchik said.

Crews were in Windber over the past week repairing cracks on the court’s surface. New lines and a specialized acrylic coating use on tennis and pickleball courts will be added in the coming days, Rugg said.

“The weather has slowed our effort,” he said. “But I think we’ll be finished by the week of July 22.”

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.