The popularity of a sport called “pickleball” is spreading in Iowa. Rick Kramer, director of parks and recreation in New Hampton, heard about pickleball at a recent conference.

“It is so new to us that I really don’t know what it is,” Kramer says. “It is table tennis on a floor, or on the ground.”

The sport combines tennis, badminton and ping-pong. It is played with a paddle and a plastic ball with holes. Enthusiasts can play indoors or outdoors on a badminton-sized court, hitting the balls over a 36-inch high net.

“Sometimes you just have to change things up a little bit,” Kramer says. “It’s for people that don’t want to do the tennis and the racketball…Another way to get (people) out in the parks, getting them enjoying the fresh air and a little exercise.”

Kramer used social media to announce a pickleball court was available in New Hampton and six people soon showed up to play.

“And then we put a picture on Facebook and got a lot of comments that people have been waiting for it,” Kramer says.

The Enhance Iowa Board recently awarded nearly $22,000 in a CAT grant to a project for the construction of six pickleball courts on a currently underutilized tennis court located on the Mount Pleasant Middle School property. Iowa Economic Development Authority spokesperson, Jessica O’Riley, says they also recently gave an award to Keokuk for pickleball courts. “This one is sort of spearheaded by the school. They started a pickleball club that sort of caught on and they have community pickleball.” O’Riley says it has created some unique pairings in Mt. Pleasant.

“They mentioned that the senior citizens are playing with the high schoolers and it has really brought a sense of community across the courts there,” according to O’Riley. She says the latest project has found a solution to a problem.
“It was a tennis court that wasn’t getting used, but now the pickleball court is getting use and is an assett to the community instead of an eyesore,” she says.

According to the USA Pickleball Association, the game was invented by three fathers trying to keep their kids busy on a beach in Washington state — but it soon became an adult activity. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, more than 3.3 million Americans played pickleball at least once last year — making it one of the lastest-growing sports in America.

In addition to the new court in New Hampton, the USA Pickleball Association has a list of 31 other Iowa cities and towns with pickleball courts.

(By Keillan Heavican, KCHA, Charles City)