Responding to the huge interest in the sport of Pickleball, and its rapid growth locally, the Winkler Pickleball Association says a plan needs to be made.

President of the Association, John Klassen, says if the pandemic had not happened, their membership of league and drop-in players would be well over 200, instead of the current 125. 

The intergenerational game attracts players of all ages to their league and drop-in matches.

"Pickleball is on fire. And if you hear us talking about that here, imagine how it is in big Pickleball hubs like Alberta, Calgary, Edmonton. They have big hubs where they have thousands of people playing Pickleball. It's starting to take off in Winnipeg too. There's thousands of people playing there. But in the States, it's just crazy, especially in places like Mesa, where one resort, I believe, has 32 Pickleball courts. So, there are lots and lots of people playing Pickleball, and it just grows more. There's now professional Pickleball players and leagues right now." 

John Klassen shares about his passion for the game of Pickleball, and his eagerness to share the game with others.

Right now, Klassen says they mostly play out of some local gyms, and an outdoor court at Lions Park. However, with popularity booming, and to ensure there's always a venue for play, Klassen says they have reached out to Winkler City Council to be involved in future planning.

"We can probably make this work right now in the gyms, but there has to be a plan," said Klassen. "We're going to explode in the next few years. We want more people to be able to access pickleball. You can't just go out there and use these gyms and havocally do this and that and put band-aids on and make things work here or there. There should be a plan."

Klassen said it's not unusual for them to "get bumped" from the school venues and Royal Hall. In fact, he said in the next five weeks, the Association will be bumped 16 times.

(Screenshot of John Klassen taken from City Council's livestreamed meeting)(Screenshot of John Klassen taken from City Council's livestreamed meeting)

After presenting to Winkler City Council at their last regular meeting, Klassen proposed the formation of a committee made up of members of Winkler City Council, the recreation department, and their association to explore different options.

"Sometimes the most expensive options aren't necessarily the most feasible or the best. Sometimes they are, but are there any other ideas and solutions? We're an exclusive group so it's nice to go outside our group and get other ideas and brainstorm." 

Some of what a committee may explore is whether to build courts exclusively for Pickleball, or something multi-use, noted Klassen. "We're really good at being able to play multi-purpose. We play exactly the same size as the badminton court, so we can play in the gyms, badminton can come use our facilities too."

Klassen says their dream is to have a building where they can play regularly and know it's always going to be there for Pickleball and Pickleball players. "That's where we're going to end up someday. But if we don't put this on City Council's radar and they don't know about it. And that's what our objective is here. Now you know, now what are you going to do with it?"

Klassen recalls discovering the game about a dozen years ago.

The Association organizes Pickleball play, sets up and organizes the gyms, and takes care of equipment. "We even have extra paddles, so if people don't have anything, they can still join."

Klassen shares what has helped the Association flourish.

Winkler Mayor Henry Siemens submitted the following statement to via email, in response to John Klassen’s pickleball presentation to City Council.

Siemens said the group, which was well represented at Tuesday's meeting, provided a very informative presentation. 

"It’s great to see people in council chambers taking an active interest in their community," said Siemens. "We knew that pickleball was growing, but I personally at least, was surprised at how fast and also the diversity of age groups playing. The fact that 17-year-olds and 71-year-olds can play a competitive game is great. Communities are strengthened when we bring different groups of people and pickleball does that. "

Siemens says it was interesting as well to hear from a number of the group that they make holiday destination decisions based on the availability of pickleball courts. It was a statement that was echoed during the meeting by Councillor Don Friesen.  

"As with anything else in a growing community there never seems to be enough, added Siemens. "We simply can’t do everything. We need creative solutions to carry us until something more permanent can be done. We’re always open to groups reaching out to partner with us in the planning, funding, and delivery of programs. The best ideas often come from the people most affected."  

Siemens says Council will take the Association's request to their next Community Services meeting to see how they can partner with the Association to grow the pickleball excitement further.