You wouldn’t normally see people eating cake and swinging racquets at 9:30 a.m. on a chilly Saturday morning, but pickleball players in St. Albert don’t skimp on their celebrations.
Scores of people packed into Alpine Park in Akinsdale on Aug. 25 for the long-awaited opening of St. Albert’s 12 new outdoor pickleball courts.
Speeches, ribbon-cutting and cake were followed by a “try-it” event for new players and a tournament.
“They say you get addicted – I can see why,” said Margo Baptista, a fresh face on the pickleball scene who got her first real lesson at Saturday’s event.
“It’s a lot of fun, actually.”
Baptista was one of dozens who tried their hand at the game Saturday, during an event where the St. Albert Pickleball Club paired up seasoned players with new players to help them learn the sport.
And if you think pickleball is just for seniors, the club has news for you. Saturday’s training session saw 55 people of all ages – children and adults – pick up a racquet.
When the friendly tournament rolled around at 11 a.m., 74 people signed on for the Round Robin.
Eileen McClean, president of the St. Albert Pickleball Club, said the transition of Alpine Courts from tennis courts to a home for pickleball left her “absolutely delighted.”
“It’s just so exciting,” she said.
And she’s got a word of advice for people who might want to see further improvement to the courts: “Enjoy it. Literally, let the games begin – because we can come and play.”
She recalls what the courts looked like last year, when club members came out with Dollar Store masking tape in hand to tape out temporary courts.
“We took our temporary nets, because we had nowhere to play, and we played there,” she said.
Now, the 12 courts are sectioned off with black fencing, with a centre walkway and benches.
Mayor Cathy Heron said she likes the way the facility was designed.
“They’re fantastic,” she said.
“I think input from the club made for a better facility. I’m super proud of this club.”
Upon opening, the courts were already at capacity. McClean said the new facility can accommodate 48, with overflow going to the courts at Larose, which can accommodate 24 players.
“When we do our Round Robin on a Monday and Thursday, we fill our spots,” McClean said.
That’s no real surprise for a club whose membership has exploded in recent years. When the Pickleball Club came out to council chambers in November 2017 to plug the Alpine Courts project, they said the club had nearly tripled its membership in the last year, going from 100 to 291.
As of Saturday morning, that number had soared to 372.
In December, city council approved $276,900 for the Alpine Courts project. The province also provided a grant of $125,000 to the Pickleball Club, which they gave to the city.
McClean said the club is expecting more sign-ups after Saturday's event. People can sign up for a club membership online at https://www.pickleballstalbert.ca.