Patrice Searle used to play a long list of sports when he was a fitness specialist for the US Air Force: basketball, volleyball, tennis and competition-level disc golf.

His main sport now is pickleball, which a neighbor introduced him to two years ago. She and eight other players hit the ball at the Youth and Family Link gymnasium in Longview on Tuesday morning.

Between serves in the pickup game, Searle said she was pleased to learn Monday that Gov. Jay Inslee had signed a bill making pickleball the official sport of Washington state.

“Pickleball is a great sport for the state because it’s not just for young people. It’s something that whole families can play,” Searle said.

Cowlitz County may not have as many active pickleball leagues or clubs as other parts of Washington, but the sport has a passionate base of locals. Allen Gutenberger, one of the other players in the gym on Tuesday morning, comes in from Rainier several times a week to play on the indoor courts at Longview.

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Whitney LeMonds, gymnasium coordinator for Youth and Family Link, estimated that there are around 200 regular pickleball players who use the recreation center.

“When we started, I don’t think a lot of people knew about it, but there’s a big, quiet group of pickleball players in the community,” LeMonds said.

About Pickleball

Pickleball is a hybrid of tennis and table tennis. Players use large, strong paddles to hit a plastic ball studded with holes, similar to a wiffle ball, back and forth across a net on hard court.

Inslee signed the bill Monday on Bainbridge Island, where pickleball was invented in 1965. The sport was started in a backyard by three fathers, including Joel Pritchard, a former congressman and Washington lieutenant governor.

In a fun and light-hearted bill signing, Inslee said pickleball was a valuable addition to the list of inventions that came out of Washington.

“Now we have the monument to fun that is pickleball, and I’m proud to say our legislature has gotten that,” Inslee said.

In 2020 and 2021, pickleball was called the fastest growing sport in America by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association with just under five million players across the United States. Professional pickleball games began airing last year on FOX Sports through its TV channels and app.

Places to play in Longview

Longview parks and recreation manager Jennifer Wills said pickleball wasn’t an organized presence at Longview until recent years when tennis players and pickleball players really started fighting each other space in city parks.

On sunny days, pickleball matches are played in city parks. Vandercook and John Null parks each have dedicated courts with lines drawn specifically for pickleball.

“On Saturdays you can drive by and see 40 or 50 people playing or waiting their turn to play,” Wills said.

The Longview Pickleball Club received nearly $15,000 in city grants in 2018 to resurface Vandercook Park tennis and pickleball courts.

Vandercook pickleball courts are marked with orange paint. If players use the tennis net, the park has two courts. If players provide their own net, they can divide the two courts into four smaller ones. Pickleball club members also keep an equipment box in the corner of the court so players don’t have to bring their own paddles.

“For us, it’s more eyes and more positive use of the park. Every time there’s good use in our parks, it negates the bad use,” Wills said.

A single covered courtyard is part of Harlie’s Hoops near the Elks Memorial Building at Sacajawea Lake, which was donated to the city earlier this year. The new pickleball courts are part of the Roy Morse Park Sports Complex Master Plan that City Council approved in 2019.

Youth and Family Link has four courts available to the public for $5 per person until 2 p.m. weekdays. LeMonds said most of the players are adults over 40. Tournament-level players come several times a week, but most of the games are casual among those that show up that day.

The YMCA of Southwest Washington sees plenty of pickleball players on its courts, though they have to split their time with several other indoor sports in search of space. Two of Mint Valley Racquet and Fitness Club’s indoor courts are set up for pickleball.