July 25, 2014 • 08:37:11 p.m.

Pickleball finds hold in McHenry County

By Story by Katie Anderson–Tedder -

After a game of Pickleball, players (from left) Mark Woodruff, Sunny Pohlander, Steve DeMars and Kurt Lapak greet each other at the net. Pickleball is a racket sport that combines tennis and badmitton. (H. Rick Bamman -

It’s the fastest growing sport in America  


The simple sport with the goofy sounding name is coming to a park district near you.

Recently referred to in the national media as the fastest growing sport in America, the game combines elements of tennis, ping pong and racquetball and is becoming a popular offering in both grade school gym classes and retirement communities across Illinois.

“It’s doable because the court is smaller than a tennis court. And it’s fast-pace, so it’s a lot of fun,” said Pam Woodruff of Marengo.

Woodruff is an avid Pickleball player and an official Ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association. Her mission as an ambassador is to help make the sport a staple at recreation centers across the county.

”I’ve had three people try it in the last week, and all three of them loved it,” Woodruff said.

Woodruff is passionate about Pickleball, but she is relatively new to the game herself.

“I was going to exercise in January. I tried it, and I didn’t like it. But fortunately I tried Pickleball in February, and I liked it,” she said. 

“It’s so much more fun than jogging for 40 minutes!,” she said.

Although Woodruff does represent a large contingent of the Pickleball community – retired adults – Marengo Recreation Director Kurt LaPak warns that athletes should not assume the sport is easy or slow.

“At first, I kind of had the wrong impression,” LaPak said. “That it would be slower-paced and boring. But the games are 15 to 20 minutes long, and your'e not just standing in one spot.”

LaPak decided to add Pickleball to the Marengo Park District’s programming this spring after a resident who had played in Florida insisted that the sport was growing in popularity and was simple to set up, requiring just a net, a few paddles and a flat surface for a court. 

While Pickleball is new to the Marengo Park District, the sport has been offered in Huntley since 2006, said Jeff Ryder, the athletic supervisor for the Huntley Park District.

“It was brought to us by some residents of Sun City that were interested in starting a program in the community,” Ryder said. “Many of them were “snowbirds” who had learned the game during the part of the year that they spend in either Arizona or Florida.  They really enjoyed it and wanted to be able to play here, as well.”

The Huntley District offers indoor-only games, but the Sun City development offers outdoor courts to residents for the summer monhts, Ryder said.

Huntley’s Park District has about 50 active players to Marengo’s dozen or so, but Marengo and Woodruff aim to catch up.

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