Carisa Kuntz couldn’t even finish her sentence without chuckling.
We laugh a lot, said the Chaskan.
But what’s so much fun? Here’s a hint: paddles, a green field, and a ball.
If you guessed tennis, you’re not that far off.
Six new pickleball courses have made their home in Chaskas Lions Park, making way for the Kuntz family and other groups to let go, have fun, and get those muscles moving.
After a few years of temporary pickleball courts, which constantly had to be set up and taken down, it was finished at the end of July and is here to stay.
The project cost just $ 20,000 and was part of the city’s capital improvement plan this year, said Marshall Grange, director of Parks and Recreation.
EXCHANGING RACKETS FOR PADDLES
Perhaps surprisingly, preserved cucumbers aren’t part of the sport, although food terms like falafel (a shot that falls short) and cuisine (the non-volley zone) are.
It’s sort of a combination of tennis, table tennis and badminton.
Two or four players use sturdy paddles (not rackets, which use strings) to hit a polymer ball with holes. Pickleball courts are considerably smaller than tennis courts and the rules are different.
USA Pickleball says the sport was invented by some fathers in the 1960s on an island off the coast of Washington state. One of the founders reportedly had a dog named Pickles, and there you have it: Pickleball.
Players and organizations say the sport has only grown in popularity over the decades. Even in Lions Park, the then tennis courts became a place for picklers to play.
More and more, we saw that pickleball was much more preferred over tennis, Grange said of the courts.
At Lions Park, recreation workers put up temporary pickleball nets near the tennis courts after July 2016.
After some time, the staff decided to put in storage bins and gave the access code to a player to set it up themselves. Staff say the two permanent tennis courts don’t take much getting used to, but the temporary pickleball courts were. Some days five or all six courts are in use.
So when some dedicated players, who were mainly active in the mornings, argued for some pickleball fields, the answer seemed obvious. It was new courts.
Originally, Grange said the department wanted 10 pickleball courts for future tournaments and clinics. Because of COVID and the associated dubious economy, six was the last digit.
The timing could hardly have been better.
Although the new jobs came in when the summer ended, they almost replaced Chaskas’ indoor jobs, which are currently unavailable.
To keep the Community Center safer with COVID, employees have moved fitness equipment to the pickleball area. As of now, Lions Park is the only place to play in town.
A smaller track means less ground to chase a ball and that ball is less bouncy, giving players more control over their shots.
That’s why it’s so great for all ages, Link said.
All ages. Younger, older, in between.
Grange said pickleball has been picked up with families and children and is now even part of some physical education programs. Players call the sport easy to learn and great for older adults too, especially in non-pandemic times.
I think it’s huge for our older adult population to have some sort of sense of identity here in Chaska so their social group can play, he said.
Some even met every morning and then went for coffee.
It’s just a great way for active older adults to stay active, but more importantly … these are their lifelong friendships, Grange said. It’s a pretty neat network.
The Kuntz family can argue against this.
Although they only started playing this summer, it was Carisas’s 89-year-old mother who interested the family.
Patt Johnson first played pickleball at the Chaska Community Center about a year ago. She took the game to her home in Pipestone and helped create courts there.
So we have paddles for all the family, Kuntz said.
The family of five takes turns playing the game and shouting: get that! or, no, that was in! It counts! a few evenings a week.
Clarisa’s husband, Matt Kuntz, said that aside from wishing for court lighting, it was a fun family challenge.
It’s just fun and you can be as competitive as you want, he said.
It just gave us something we could all do and have fun and be outside, and it really brought our family together during this time, Kuntz said.
It also brought other Haskans together.
Jon Dobias and Heather Vikla moved from Shakopee to Chaska this summer. The couple bought a mansion near Lions Park, so on their frequent walks, they soon noticed the new jobs.
That was a pleasant surprise, said Dobias. That was not the reason why we moved to Chaska, but just take it.
The two bought a beginner pickleball set and now have about three built-in date nights every week.
It was a lot of fun, he said.
PLAYER # 5: COVID
Recreation manager Erin Link said that while the new space is outside, there are ways to make playing even safer.
People should bring their own paddles and balls and try to play with people who live in their homes. If that’s not possible, Link said to keep groups smaller by playing singles games, not doubles.
Since there are six courts, people can spread out and try not to play on the nearest field. Courts are not cleaned, so people have to bring hand sanitizer to use before and after the games.
All of these things are sort of our hope that people will follow and be safe, Link said, even though the staff don’t patrol.
Staff also ask picklers not to play when sick, not to share equipment, and to avoid physical contact with other players, such as high-fiving or handshaking. Wearing a face mask when not playing is also recommended, as is avoiding socializing after games.
Finally, if a pickleball comes to you from another track, the staff will ask people to kick it back or use a paddle to bring it back instead of picking it up with your hands.
Recreation personnel have a roster of frequent pickleball players to send safety information like this one to, Link said.
Dobias said he was happy to see pickleball courts outside, but once the winter hits that won’t be an option.
He hasn’t been to the Chaska Community Center yet, but wants to see if staff are adding jobs to the upper gym this fall. He is optimistic about his safety.
Link said they hope to make room for two courts upstairs where pickleball clinics or competitions can be held.
Also in the possibly near future, Grange said, is a revamp of the Lions Park shelter building. It could be a finishing touch for a park that is on the rise.
(The new courts) are another facility that I think has really revived Lions Park in general. It kind of adds to some of the energy we gained there from the dogs that are off-leash, Grange said.
Now pickers can put that energy elsewhere when they stop at the park: into their calves, shoulders and maybe the stomach for a few good belly laughs.