In the community

Pickleball fever comes to Malheur County, but a lack of courts hinders play

ONTARIO —The pickleball fever sweeping the U.S. has hit Ontario, but a lack of courts in the area has kept the sport from taking off locally. 

Andrew Maeda, executive director of the Ontario Recreation District, said over the winter, Ontario has a group of players who have been gathering at the Ontario Middle School cafeteria to play. Additionally, the district hosted an adult pickleball league over the summer, with roughly 30 people coming out to learn the sport. 

The sport, a hybrid of tennis, ping pong and badminton, is played with a ball similar to a Wiffle ball. It grew by more than 40% between 2019 and 2021, making it the nation’s fastest-growing sport, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. 

Maeda said soon after voters established the district in 2018, then-board member Bob Boyd brought up the idea of using the tennis courts at Lions Park in Ontario for pickleball. 

Boyd said the sport was becoming popular in Ontario and across the country. 

According to Maeda, the accessibility of pickleball is why he thinks the sport has drawn interest. 

According to USA Pickleball – the national governing body for the sport – increased by 43% from 2020 to 2021. Additionally, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association reported more than 4.8 million pickleball players, or “picklers,” in the U.S. in 2021.

Boyd said in an interview that if Ontario had more than the four courts at Lions Park, there would be more interest in the sport. 

“There are a lot of people who would really like to try (pickleball) and would get hooked on it,” Boyd said.  “But there is just not a lot of opportunity.”