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How Pickleball Took St. Louis By Storm

050421_emilywoodbury_pickleball_01.jpg Tilles Park pickleball
Emily Woodbury / St. Louis Public Radio
Pickleball enthusiasts enjoy a sunny day of play in Tilles Park in St. Louis last week.

If you’re looking for a racket sport this spring, you might find some of the old standbys are a bit passe. Tennis? Too hard. Racquetball? No one wants an indoor sport during a pandemic. Well, how about pickleball? The main problem with this laidback version of tennis, pingpong and badminton may be that it’s just too popular. Courts across the region seem perpetually filled with players.

The very fact that the courts exist is largely the work of one man, as St. Louis Magazine revealed in a recent story detailing the sport’s explosive growth here. Mike Chapin fell in love with pickleball in 2014, writes Nicholas Phillips. Thanks to Chapin’s advocacy, in 2016. Tilles Park in St. Louis became host to the area’s first permanent multicourt pickleball facility. At Chapin’s urging, four parks across the city have followed, with more on the way (and even more coming to St. Louis County).

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Chapin discussed pickleball lore, his efforts to get pickleball courts installed in parks around the city and what gives the sport its multigenerational appeal.

“I don’t know a sport where a grandparent and grandchild can be physical in the same field or court together like pickleball,” he said. “That’s the beauty of the game.”

Chapin also addressed the criticism that pickleball’s growth has come at the expense of tennis. At the point he began advocating for pickleball, he said, the city alone had 149 tennis courts. “I knew there was capacity to have tennis and pickleball intertwined,” he said. “We certainly wanted to be a good partner. … Quite honestly, several players from tennis or racquetball convert over to pickleball, or play both sports at the same time, and just fall in love with pickleball.”

Tower Grove Park, for instance, has nine tennis courts and eight pickleball courts. “We usually have about 20 or 30 people waiting to play pickleball, and the tennis courts are barely full,” Chapin said.

We also heard from listeners across the metro area.

The Pied Piper Of Pickleball
Listen to Mike Chapin discuss pickleball on the air

For those eager to see top players on the court, Chapin also shared that the USA Pickleball Association’s Middle State Regional Tournament will be held at the Dwight Davis Tennis Center in Forest Park from May 27 to 30.

“There will be over 800 players representing 37 states participating in this major event and it will really showcase a lot of how great our pickleball sport is along with the growth we have going on right now in St. Louis,” he wrote in an email. “Guests and non-players are welcome to come out to watch the sport being played in singles, doubles and mixed doubles formats throughout the four days of the tournament. Admission is free.”

Related Event

What: USA Pickleball Association Middle State Regional Tournament

When: May 27-30

Where: Dwight Davis Tennis Center, 5620 Grand Drive, St. Louis 63112

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.