O'Fallon Progress

Players relish camaraderie, competition of new pickleball club in O’Fallon

Brine a bit ping pong with slice of tennis and you get a sport to relish: pickleball

Pickle Ball Club is a new program offered in O'Fallon by the city's parks and recreation department at 8 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday's at Hesse Park.
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Pickle Ball Club is a new program offered in O'Fallon by the city's parks and recreation department at 8 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday's at Hesse Park.

Power hits were the bread and butter of Mike Gilchrist’s game on the tennis and racquetball court. But he’s had to adjust his strategy somewhat for his new favorite net game — pickleball.

“You can’t squash the ball or drive a spike or anything, really,” Gilchrist said.

Not that you can dillydally.

“It keeps me moving,” Gilchrist said.

So what is pickleball?

First, there’s no cucumber-based products involved.

The best way to describe it would be, if ping pong and tennis were to have a baby, pickleball would be it.

The game is played on a tennis-like court, but it’s smaller and has a lower nets. But instead of a racquet and rubber ball, like tennis, a wooden paddle and plastic ball are used, like ping pong. Although, the both are larger than in ping pong. The ball is like a Wiffle ball, and the paddle’s size is corresponding.

“It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S., today,” Gilchrist said. “Actually, mostly with the retired and resort communities, because we have the time to play more.”

Though younger players are taking to the game, too.

“It’s really picking up in popularity. There’s even a pro circuit now, with some college age athletes pursuing it,” Gilchrist said.

O’Fallon Club

After offering an introduction class to the sport in the past, O’Fallon Parks and Recreation Department recently formed its own pickleball club.

“It has become a big attraction for snowbirds that play in Florida during the winter and then return to O’Fallon during the summer months,” said Patrick Poore-Christensen, the department’s program administrator.

There are also three new pickleball courts at Hesse Park, 810 Madison Drive in O’Fallon, behind Hinchcliffe Elementary.

“We are the only outdoor location on this side of the river that has courts dedicated solely to pickleball, others have dual-used courts with portable nets, but ours are permanent pickleball courts,” said Gilchrist, who helped organize the club.

The group regularly meets from 9 to 11 a.m. Mondays at Hesse Park but will also meets sometimes Wednesdays and Fridays at 8 a.m. Participation in the program is free, and equipment is provided on-site, but registration is required.

According to Gilchrist, there’s about 15 people weekly that play, but he hopes for more.

“We’re growing now and consistently have more people enough to play at least one or two doubles on a court,” said Gilchrist.

The department’s website lists the program running until Aug. 28, but Gilchrist said he anticipates this club to be on ongoing program to run throughout the year. The winter indoor venue will be at St. Clair Tennis, 733 Hartman Lane in O’Fallon.

“A lot of fun”

Carol Crews, of O’Fallon, learned to play in Florida and has been at it for nearly three years — year-round.

“It’s for fun, exercise, and honestly, I’d rather be doing this than get on a treadmill,” said Crews, who showed up at Hesse Park on a recent Monday, donning pickleball-themed sportswear. “I went to the U.S. Open Pickleball competition, too. It’s really a growing.”

Jane Maduri, who lives in the Far Oaks subdivision between Caseyville and O’Fallon, has been playing for three years, mostly at St. Clair Tennis and the Edwardsville YMCA in the winter.

“I love being outdoors, and the courts here at Hesse are just awesome, and the lines are laid out very well, not like some places where we have to use tape on the dual-use tennis courts,” Maduri said.

New to the sport, Diane Hanft, of Freeburg, said there’s a lot to like about the game.

“Mike (Gilchrist) and I hike together, and he invited me, and I love it. I play ping pong, but this is outdoors, where I like to be. And it’s good for the guys, too, who have a tennis or racquetball background,” Hanft said.

Another self-proclaimed “newbie,” Chris Marah, of Maryville, said he was glad for his invitation three months ago.

“It’s fun, and I plan on sticking with it, and everyone’s very encouraging,” Marah said.

For more information or to register visit the city’s website, ofallon.org.

Pickleball Club of O’Fallon at a glance

Location: Hesse Park, 810 N. Madison

Dates: Mondays through Aug. 28

Time: 9 to 11 a.m., open play time for anyone interested in the learning and playing the game

Ages: Any

Cost: Free

Contact: Mike Gilchrist at 618-530-7780 or mhg1@charter.net