Pickleball, a paddle sport often described as a cross between tennis, ping pong and badminton, was invented in 1965 by three dads on Bainbridge Island, WA. In just over fifty years, it has acquired 36.5 million players nationally, and has now been ranked as the fastest growing sport for the past three years running. As recent events have proven, Portland is by no means exempt from this trend.
In Sellwood, there has been a neighborhood debacle spurred by the high demand for pickleball. In Sellwood Park, a private community group called Portland Pickleball Club raised $20,000 to renovate underused tennis courts and turn them into pickleball courts. Portland Parks and Recs issued the group a non-park use permit to allow them to legally take charge on the project.
However, after the construction was completed and the pickleballing began, the constant sound of plastic balls smacking against hard paddles irritated neighbors who lived near the park. In response to the escalating noise complaints, Portland Parks and Recs decided to change the courts back to tennis courts. The proposed compromise is that to make up for the loss of those courts, the city will turn lower tennis courts in the park into pickleball courts. But even this raises new controversies.
One issue is that the city is not going to refund Portland Pickleball Club any of the money they spent renovating the upper courts. They will refund the permit fees, but the $20,000 remains wasted. Another problem is that the lower courts accommodate far fewer players than the upper courts—a difference of 12 as opposed to 32 players. They are also in worse condition and it is unclear if the city will put as much care into paving over cracks and patchy asphalt as the club did.
In an article from KGW8, Portland Pickleball Club Member Henrik Bothe commented on the situation.
“At first they just painted some lines on the very crappy court that is below us here and wanted us to move down and move away from all the hard work and all the money we put in and give it up,” Bothe said. “But now I think they’re coming around and they realize that they have to make it at least as good or better down there.”
The journey for the club to enact these renovations in the first place was not an easy or a brief one. They spent several years fundraising and organizing logistics before starting construction in the fall of 2021, when the city asked them to stop because they lacked the proper permits.
According to a KOIN interview with Portland Pickleball Club Member Jil Delanty, in the following year the club paid thousands of dollars for liability insurance and permit fees. The aforementioned $20,000 spent on construction was for materials, not labor, as all the work was done by club members themselves. The construction was finally finished in fall of 2022.
Delanty’s opinion on the city’s response to the noise complaints is that it does not make up for the years of effort and funds put into developing these courts. From the neighbors’ perspectives, however, the noise drastically impacts their quality of living. Some have even considered moving to a different neighborhood.
As pickleball becomes a presence in nearly every athletic community, these kinds of issues come up more and more often. Making compromises that allow quality pickleball courts to be available while remaining non-intrusive to those outside the community is important, especially considering how accessible this sport is to people of all age groups, activity levels and athletic backgrounds.