From pretty much the launch of the Greater Sudbury Pickleball Association (GSPA), one item has topped the group's collective agenda: locating adequate venues in Greater Sudbury to play host to one of, if not the fastest growing sport in North America.
And while it is going to take a little bit of give and take on both sides, a recent offering of the Sudbury Indoor Tennis Centre has quickly gained a very strong foothold.
"Alain (current SITC director Alain Blais) has been instrumental in making this happen," noted GSPA secretary and spokeswoman Sharon Bourque. The initiative provides court time on non prime time hours, three times a week (Sunday/Monday/Friday), at a very reasonable cost of $25/month.
With the snow soon about to cover the O'Connor Park courts, in use since the fall of 2018, and the newly installed set-up at Cote Park in Rayside-Balfour, there are many reasons behind the appreciation being shown by the more than one hundred members who have registered over the course of a little more than a month.
"I think my joints are a little happier here than they are when we are playing out at O'Connor," said Bourque. "This (surface) seems a little more forgiving."
In fact, the GSPA is doing what it can to ensure that this new partnership is viewed, by one and all, in a positive light. "There was an introduction to pickleball course that was offered here," said Bourque. "We taught it, but did not charge anything."
"We are prepared to support anything that we can, just because we are so happy to be in here."
This, despite the fact that both parties might still like to see a tweak or two that would make it a little easier to co-exist. "The courts here are much closer together, so your ball is constantly straying into the adjacent court," Bourque admitted.
"The proximity of the courts can be problematic, even just in terms of hearing the score and such. And we hear that there is some pushback from their members, which is understandable."
But at the end of the day, this comes as close to a win-win as possible, giving the GSPA an indoor presence throughout the winter, and providing another source of revenue for the SITC that caters, obviously, to a larger tennis community.
Given the overlap with racquet sports, many are hopeful this solution is sustainable. "We guesstimate that there are over 200 players in Sudbury, and we have likely taught 100 or so of them, but that still means that a good 50% of the players have likely picked it up south of the border," explained Bourque.
"I would say that a lot of them come from racquet sport backgrounds and they pick up pickleball very easily. A lot of our demographics are seniors who come from a racquet sport, but find that a tennis court is just a little bit too large for an aging body."
"Pickleball is played on a (much) smaller court, the paddle is lighter, the whiffle ball is lighter. It is really easy to learn and very inexpensive to get into."
While growth in the sport, south of the border, is largely coming from the introduction of the game to a younger constituency, there is little doubt that seniors form the majority of the players grouping in Canada.
"These are people who are retired and looking for things, in that time of their life," said Bourque, glancing at eight fully occupied courts at the tennis bubble. "Suddenly, they find this whole new social activity that allows them to stay physically active and meet a whole new group of people."
"But if you look at the United States, where the game has been around longer, the youth that are coming to the game are changing the kind of game that it is."
For the GSPA, however, the kind of game is far less important than simply having a comfortable place to play - and thanks to the Sudbury Indoor Tennis Centre, that item can be stroked off the agenda - for now.