Meadow Park is just one of the sites that now offers pickleball courts.

It’s not often that a new sport is called “life-changing,” but that’s how many new players are describing pickleball, one the fastest growing sports in the country.

An easy game to learn, pickleball’s popularity can be attributed to its many physical and social benefits, says Roger Schaljo, president of the Emerald Valley Pickleball Club in Eugene and Springfield

“It’s a great social game, great for the reflexes, and it gets the heart rate up while having fun,” he says.

Monte Bousquet, 60, is one of those who credits pickleball with providing physical and mental benefits.

“I was a very active person all my life, and then all of a sudden I quit coaching,” Bousquet says. “I quit refereeing, and I ran out of things to do. Jogging was not the answer. Then I was introduced to pickleball, and it’s been a life-changer. I was able to be competitive again, get my heart rate better and also work up a sweat.”

Another local player, Gloria Cramer, says pickleball has improved her health and stamina.

“I’m 73 years old, and I was beginning to lose my stamina, and I’ve got that back,” she says. “It has great health benefits. I love to work out, and I think the best benefit is that my stamina is much better and I’ve gained some strength from it. It’s a wonderful game, I love it.”

Schaljo has seen pickleball help those who are fighting serious health issues.

Last summer, he held a four-week session of pickleball lessons devoted specifically to people with Parkinson’s disease. He says the sport helped a number of participants rediscover their physical confidence.

Because of the disorder, even holding a coffee cup steadily can be a challenge. But Schaljo saw these same players move with grace and confidence on the court, delivering solid serve after solid serve.

The game, based as much on strategy as well as stamina, is played on a badminton-sized court, with a net and rules similar to tennis. The equipment is simple — players use a solid paddle to strike a plastic whiffle ball. Both singles and doubles can play.

Pickleball courts are available at recreation centers and clubs across Eugene and Springfield, including at Willamalane Park and Recreation District.

Schaljo credits Willamalane for opening both indoor and outdoor courts.

In June, its first outdoor courts opened at Meadow Park in Springfield. The creation of the courts was a partnership between Willamalane and the Emerald Valley Pickleball Club as the two organizations worked closely together throughout this project.

Through a grassroots effort, the pickleball club raised $15,000 to match Willamalane’s investment in converting two tennis courts into eight pickleball courts.

Schaljo says he was excited to see the outdoor courts open, as they allow more time for “working people to come out and play,” and that the outdoor courts can open the floodgates for increased play and interest, citing Bend as an example.

“Bend had 90 pickleball members before 16 new outdoor courts were constructed and they now have 650 members,” he says.

Before Willamalane’s outdoor courts opened, club membership of Emerald Valley Pickleball Club numbered 142. Now, there are more than 200 members.

With the new outdoor courts in Springfield and others in the planning stages in Eugene, Schaljo expects membership to easily grow to 250 and beyond in the next year.

To join the Emerald Valley Pickleball Club, or learn more about the sport, contact Roger Schaljo at 541-214-4940, or roger.schaljo@gmail.com

Along with Meadow Park, Willamalane offers drop-in pickleball play at Bob Keefer Center, 250 S. 32nd St., Springfield. For more information, call 541-736-4544, or visit willamalane.org.

Willamalane Park and Recreation District maintains and operates five recreation facilities and 46 parks and natural areas totaling nearly 1,500 acres.

Highlights include 10 waterfront areas, 29 miles of hiking and biking trails, nine turf and four synthetic sports fields, and 27 playgrounds.

Willamalane offers recreation programs to people of all ages and abilities. Created by voters in 1944, Willamalane is a special tax district, separate from the city of Springfield, with its own boundaries. It is governed by a five-member, elected board of directors and managed by a district superintendent.

Learn more at willamalane.org.

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