Net gain

Mansfield is putting players on the court with a new twist. The city has become a burgeoning pickleball community.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department has fostered the up-and-coming racquet sport that’s suited to all age ranges, athletic abilities and skill levels.

“We are always looking for future programs, and pickleball was blowing up on the East and West coasts,” says Greg Guse, a Recreation Services Supervisor for the city of Mansfield. “We branched out and started out with a couple of players. Now we have 200 players a week at the (Mansfield Activities Center).”

The sport, which originated on the West Coast in the mid-1960s, can be played by two or four players, each using a wooden paddle to hit a hollow plastic ball over a net to score points. The paddle is smaller than a tennis racquet and larger than a table tennis paddle. The ball has  holes in it and resembles a Wiffle ball.

In Mansfield, the pickleball community has blossomed from a few players to more than 200 participants playing weekly.

The court is 44 feet by 20 feet, smaller than a tennis court, which measures 78 x 36 for doubles. Players score only when they or their team has the serve. The game ends on points rather than a predetermined time frame. Games are played to 11, 15 or 21, depending on the circumstances, with the winning team required to win by at least two points.

“The game length depends on how well the players match up,” says Guse.

Though games can get competitive, the social aspect and laid-back attitude draw players.

“It allows me to have a new group of friends,” says Linda Brandes, a retired Mansfield ISD teacher and coach. “It’s a social game, it’s affordable and it’s good for all ages and skill levels.”

That word has gotten around Mansfield. The Mansfield Activities Center (106 S. Wisteria St.), plays host to competitors three days a week, with open courts for three hours at a time.

The Rec Department sets up the courts in the gym, and has paddles available for newcomers who want to try the game. For those in search of more formal training, classes are available.

The MAC will be the site of a tournament this month. The Spring Slam Pickleball Tournament is scheduled for Feb. 21-23. About 100 players are expected for the event, which sold out in less than 24 hours.

Another tournament, the Summer Slam Pickleball event, is set for Aug. 1-2 at Fieldhouse USA Mansfield (650 US 287 Frontage Road). For more information on the tournaments, visit mansfieldtexas.gov/pickleball.

Last summer’s tournament held at Fieldhouse USA brought nearly 400 players from 10 states, including California, Hawaii and South Dakota, Guse says. The tournaments are sanctioned by USA Pickleball, the governing body for the sport in the United States.

Brandes, who has played for more than two years, travels to other locations in Dallas-Fort Worth to play, and uses an app to find games when she’s traveling out of state. The former coach, who describes herself as competitive, likes that the sport allows her to teach the game to others.

“Nobody gets mad, and people are really open to learn the game, especially in Mansfield, where everybody is so inviting,” she says.

Guse foresees only growth in Mansfield. The need for more courts is being addressed in long-term planning, and Guse wants to enlarge the field of younger players.

“We’re bursting at the seams, so we’re looking at new opportunities,” he says. “In five years, this game will be pronounced at all age levels.”