February 29, 2024

Whole Community News

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Pickleball players describe community benefits, seek support for LCC complex

13 min read
Karen Gaffney spoke about the health, mental health and equity benefits of pickleball: "It brings diverse people together in a social and fun way that combats loneliness, and it's a low-barrier sport and very accessible."

Pickleball players packed the public forum Oct. 23. They asked the city council to support a regional pickleball complex at Lane Community College.

[00:00:10] Eric Wold: We specifically encourage the council to pass a resolution to add the regional pickleball complex to the list of projects eligible for Parks SDC (system development charges) funding.

[00:00:18] Why is this complex needed? Because the number of people who play pickleball vastly exceed the capacity of the local courts. And the locations where there are existing courts, which are Westmoreland Park and Striker Field Park, are not suitable for expansion because they are located near neighborhoods and lack adequate parking and other infrastructure.

[00:00:36] Pickleball is a very popular park and recreation activity. It’s the largest or the fastest-growing sport in the country and has been for the last five years. As such, it should be adequately supported by the city of Eugene, including supporting the construction of places to play.

[00:00:51] Pickleball has grown rapidly over the past 10 years and is continuing to grow at a very rapid pace. For the reason why is because the sport is very social. This is evidence of that. It is easy to learn. It is inexpensive to play. And offers great exercise.

[00:01:09] It is a sport where players across multiple generations can play together and where people with disabilities and those who are able-bodied can play together. It is simply the most inclusive and welcoming sport that I’ve ever known and the regional pickleball complex will provide the courts needed to meet the existing demand.

[00:01:26] And it is ideally located at Lane Community College which has large amounts of existing parking, has public transportation and is not close to residential development, thereby negating concerns about noise. And the complex is a public-private partnership, so the city would not be asked to be doing this alone.

[00:01:46] It is similar to the synergy that the city has in another partnership around parks, which is the Rivers to Ridges Partnership. It is a strikingly successful partnership for trails and natural areas in the greater Eugene area.

[00:01:57] Kaelin Jackson: Hi, my name is Kaelin Jackson. I’m also here as a part of the large and rapidly-growing pickleball community here in Eugene.

[00:02:07] Personally, I work as a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Oregon, specifically with the women’s basketball and softball teams. Throughout my time in Eugene, I’ve become a regular at pickleball courts and have made a lot of lifelong friendships through this avenue with that as well.

[00:02:26] We’ve taken the women’s basketball and softball teams on team retreats and have included pickleball as one of the retreat activities, and they have absolutely loved it. So much so, that a lot of them asked me to go play in our free time. So they really enjoy it. And to just see the younger generation becoming part of something like that as well is really amazing.

[00:02:48] It gives them an avenue for physical activity and recreation that they can continue with, you know, after they’re done playing their sport in college, in a lifelong capacity. The growth in this age group is also demonstrated by the newly-created national championship for collegiate club pickleball teams. There are pickleball teams in each of the five major collegiate conferences with UNC being the defending two-time national champion. And the U of O is currently working on starting a club pickleball team for the university. They also instituted the first pickleball class this past spring, which filled up almost immediately.

[00:03:29] In the meantime, there are many current U of O students that are out playing at our crowded Westmoreland Park pickleball courts. And with the growth of pickleball among the young, middle-aged, and older generation, it really allows for multi-generational friendships and collaboration to be built. And this is one of the reasons why a great solution to the lack of courts in Eugene would be the regional pickleball complex to allow for all generations to enjoy the game of pickleball.

[00:03:56] Karen Gaffney: My name is Karen Gaffney. I’m also here to encourage the council to financially support the construction of the regional pickleball complex at LCC.

[00:04:04] As many of you know, my background is in public health. I served as the county’s public health director, mental health director and retired a couple of years ago. And I have to say, as a public health professional, I’m so excited about the health and mental health and equity benefits of pickleball. This project provides an opportunity for the city of Eugene to join with other public and private partners in a positive project to create a great health and recreation resource for now and into the future.

[00:04:32] I’m excited about the growth of this sport, because it provides moderate intensity exercise, it brings diverse people together in a social and fun way that combats loneliness, and it’s a low-barrier sport and very accessible. Studies confirm that pickleball contributes to improved wellness, including reductions in stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Pickleball builds community and connection with opportunities to nurture social relationships, boost self-esteem and provide a sense of belonging. It helps combat the epidemic of loneliness and particularly amongst the very young and the very old who we’re particularly concerned about.

[00:05:08] And a 2018 study showed that people who play pickleball at least three times a week can expect to see an increase in cardiorespiratory fitness, a reduction in blood pressure, and improvement in good cholesterol. It’s good for individuals and it’s good for our community. Pickleball is played by all ages and skill levels with the fastest-growing demographic nationally and locally being amongst young people.

[00:05:28] Given its ease of play and low-impact nature, it can be an enjoyable way for people of all ages to stay active and fit. The game is accessible for people who use wheelchairs and is played as an integrated sport, including people with disabilities and those who are able-bodied together on the same court.

[00:05:44] The project is centering access for people with disabilities in the design, working closely with Eugene Adaptive Recreation staff, the local wheelers group to ensure true access and inclusion. And pickleball is accessible for people who are low-income, with public courts and low-cost equipment. We need your help in order to see these benefits for our community, we have to provide more places for people to play.

[00:06:08] David Zupan: I’m David Zupan. I appreciate the opportunity to speak and to support the idea of A facility out at LCC, which I believe would really serve the community very well.

[00:06:18] I started playing a number of years ago before the sport went mainstream and I’ve played all over the country. I’ve played in Europe. And one thing I’ve noticed about the sport is that it is very social, as has been mentioned. But it’s very friendly, and it doesn’t matter if you’re from out of town, all you have to do is Google the sport and up will come the location for the pickleball. And when you get there, you’re welcomed, even though you may be a stranger in that community.

[00:06:50] So what it is really is a healing experience for people of different backgrounds, different generations, different political orientations. They come together on the pickleball court, play, and enjoy the social interaction, compete in a way that usually is friendly (laughter).

[00:07:18] You’d be doing a real service to the community, to the county by having this facility. And it’s very much also an economic investment because many people that play pickleball are willing to support the community economically. I think many businesses are discovering this as well. So, I think it’s a win-win for everybody.

[00:07:36] Scott Willis: My name is Scott Willis. I’d like to speak to you about the health and rehabilitation benefits of pickleball. I’m a lifelong tennis player, but 15 years ago I got a severe shoulder injury. Lost my ability to play tennis. Could only lift my arm this high. You have to have an overhead in pickleball, so I’m getting close. Still can’t play tennis because it hurts like heck to hit an overhead, but I’m getting close, so it’s helped.

[00:08:05] I’ve lost 60 pounds over the last few years. That’s a third of my body and pickleball is allowing me to take that weight off and keep it off. Two and a half years ago, I suffered an extremely bad stroke, inch and a half clot in my brain, 50-50 chance of survival. Five weeks after that, I was on the pickleball court and within a week to a week and a half, I regained my balance and I’m fully recovered from that.

[00:08:33] So pickleball is a wonderful thing for everyone and adds a lot of health benefits.

[00:08:39] Nick Tabet: My name is Nick Tabet. I’m here to really talk about the social benefit that pickleball offers. I played with probably half of the members in this room, none of which that I knew three years ago.

[00:08:53] I have a contact list in my phone, probably 50 or so people, first name basis, with the last name of ‘Pickleball,’ which allows me to create an ad hoc game whenever the need arises. It’s a game that my wife plays. My children play whenever they return to town. We look forward heading down to Westmoreland to play.

[00:09:13] I’ve also had the opportunity to play in a variety of different places: in Lake Okoboji, Iowa, and the Okanagan Valley in Canada and Seattle, Portland, even Brooklyn, New York. And I can say that the facilities that I’ve had a chance to play with the play on and in these various places seriously are much better than the kind of facilities that we have here in Eugene.

[00:09:35] But as other members talked about, it’s the opportunity for us to go wherever, meet people, and be able to play. I’ve had the opportunity to play here in Eugene with people from Ohio, from New York, from California, who simply drop into the Westmoreland court with a paddle and say, let’s play. And so in order to make a better welcoming community here in Eugene, I think pickleball provides that opportunity.

[00:10:00] And I really encourage the city council to look at funding a facility out at LCC to provide that opportunity for outside visitors to enjoy the Eugene site.

[00:10:10] Andrew Pham: Hi, my name is Andrew Pham. And if you couldn’t tell, I’m here with the other pickleball players, so about me, I am a professional pianist. I teach and perform locally, and I also travel throughout the United States to work with opera companies as a rehearsal pianist. and you better believe that I do pack my paddle every time I travel.

So, community. Over the years, I have developed a wonderful network of friends through pickleball, and they are undoubtedly a significant part of my community in Eugene.

[00:10:43] I was introduced to the sport by a friend just about eight years ago. And when I realized that people played virtually every morning and were seriously addicted, I, as a newcomer could just appear and be welcomed, and it was a monumental paradigm for me. I realized I didn’t have to wait for my one pickleball friend to call me to play, but I could just show up to this public place and find people who would integrate me into the games immediately.

[00:11:10] Fast forward several years.  I now have a network of pickleball friends within Oregon and throughout the country, and also have a contact list with many people with the last name ‘Pickleball,’ and I’ve played with people who today are 20 years younger than me, and at least one person who’s 50 years older than me.

[00:11:27] And I think that multi-generational coverage is just an amazing thing that a sport can do. So, as this community grows and expands, we will need more courts to play to accommodate the rapidly-increasing number of players coming to the sport, which you all know, there are many coming and this magical game has a way of attracting and growing a community of people who are looking to get exercise, make friends, and just escape the pressures of life for a while.

[00:11:56] Personally, for me, I’ve also found a lot of audience members from pickleball players. There have been a number of people who come to my concerts. One time, they were two-thirds of my audience.

[00:12:08] So, lastly, I just hope for this facility for the winter months. It’s a tough time for everyone emotionally, and having a covered court will be great for all of us who have trouble with the weather.

[00:12:19] Roger Schaljo: My name is Roger Schaljo. I am the president of the Emerald Valley Pickleball Club. We currently, as of this morning, had 857 members. The pickleball club is a 501(c)(7) nonprofit organization. The majority of our members live in Eugene. And as Eric (Wold) expressed earlier, there are so many more people play pickleball than our members of our club.

[00:12:51] I am here to encourage the council to financially support the construction of the regional pickleball complex at Lane Community College. To that end, I specifically encourage the council to pass a resolution to add the regional pickleball complex at LCC to the list of projects eligible for park SDC funding.

[00:13:12] While the club has over the 850 members, that represents, as I expressed, just a fraction of the total number of people that are playing. We have people that are playing all different ages, we have people that play with disabilities. It brings people together. As you see, this is—this is my family. This is our family, and that’s the way we care about each other, out on the courts, as well as off.

[00:13:39] It’s just, it’s an amazing sport that brings people together, the connectedness of people. The pickleball has been growing so fast. We started the club in 2015 with 45 members. That tells you how fast it’s been going. The club has worked collaboratively with local parks and recreation providers to expand the number of indoor and outdoor courts that are available in our community.

[00:14:03] The club has also contributed to help cover the cost of some of these courts, such as Meadow Park in Springfield and Westmoreland in Eugene. As an organization, the club has consistently partnered or offered to partner with parks and recreation providers, including the city of Eugene, city of Coburg, city of Cottage Grove and Willamalane.

[00:14:24] Radiant Gaines: Hello, I’m Radiant Gaines. As you may or may not know, our nation suffers from an enlarged amount of obesity. Apple has recently released an article stating that the number one Apple Watch workout is pickleball. I used to weigh 222 pounds and now I am 131 pounds.

[00:14:43] So what I know is that we created a space where anyone can show up. You don’t have to have a paddle—we’ll give you one. And every person in this room, it doesn’t, it’s not a competition. There’s not one person in this room who won’t be there and support me when I have a bad day or who won’t be there and clap for me when I hit a good shot.

[00:15:05] And I think that pickleball because it’s the fastest growing sport in America, I think it is a huge part of potentially overcoming this obesity. And I really hope that you will consider putting the money towards LCC so that I don’t have to wait 15 minutes in between games and lose my cardio because I’m still trying to keep it off.

[00:15:25] I’m still trying to keep down there and I just love playing pickleball and being part of this community. So, thank you.

[00:15:31] Jul Gray: Hi, I’m Jul Gray and I believe I’m going to be the last person you’re going to hear from to encourage the council to financially support the construction of the regional pickleball facility at Lane Community College. Towards that end, I specifically encourage the council to pass a resolution to add the regional pickleball complex at LCC to the list of eligible projects for Parks SDC funding.

[00:15:52] The reason I was asked to speak tonight is because two reasons. One, I traveled around the United States nationally and played on a pickleball circuit. I played in 39 states. I played in some of the best complexes in the United States.

[00:16:14] The design of the regional pickleball facility at Lane Community College is amongst the best, and especially when it comes to the welcome, the way that it’s going, you can walk in, it’s very welcoming. It’s accessible. The parking’s amazing, we’re specifically creating parking for ADA access. So it is designed specifically to fit into the community standards of what the city of Eugene stands for.

[00:16:29] So that part is really exciting. The covered courts that were mentioned tonight, too, is something that there just isn’t on the other outdoor complexes around the United States. So that is—it’s going to be known as one of the stadiums around the United States, one of the complexes around the United States. Average large (attendance) on the circuit is 1,000 to 1,500 participants at each one. So if you had complexes, so if they came to the complex and had a tournament here, that’s a lot of people coming into Eugene and helping with tourism and the various things.

[00:17:01] I’m also a certified pickleball coach, and one of my specialties is adaptive. So I work with people in wheelchairs, hearing, sight issues, limbs, all various different, and that’s part that, as you’ve heard tonight, I just love about pickleball, is that wherever you are, you are home and you’re willing and able to work with everybody to play with everybody that’s there.

[00:17:25] There just isn’t. Everybody plays together. It is a family and it is something that socioeconomically is not a barrier, it’s a low-cost sport. And so then the pickleball club makes it very easy for people to have access to it. So, we really appreciate your time tonight and the opportunity to put money towards the LCC complex and I hope you have a beautiful evening.

[00:17:52] John Q: Pickleball players describe the health and social benefits from a rapidly-growing sport that is attracting players of all ages. The city council is currently considering a bond measure, which could finance a new baseball stadium for the Eugene Emeralds and a regional pickleball complex at Lane Community College.


Image: David Zupan said pickleball lets people compete in a way that “usually is friendly.”

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