Violet Wyatt had never heard of pickleball before she showed up Monday for the first day of a week-long camp featuring the game.
Neither had Archer Fincher and Harper Balsz. But by the second day of camp, the three third-graders were volleying the plastic balls used in the game across nets, practicing serves, and grinning as they scrambled to hit the ball with their paddles.
“It’s fun,” Archer said. “I’m pretty good, too. I’m better at this than other sports.”
The Klamath County School District partnered with the Klamath Basin Pickleball Association this summer to purchase equipment and create pickleball courts on existing tennis courts at Mazama and Henley high schools. Local pickleball players then volunteered their expertise and time to coach students in a free week-long camp aimed at introducing youth to the game.
KCSD Superintendent Glen Szymoniak and KBPA member Cec Amuchastegui worked together to get the program off the ground. The district provided resources using federal ESSER funds and club members took the lead.
“The district is doing everything it can to reengage our students fully, and we are working with community partners to do so,” Szymoniak said. “The Klamath Basin Pickleball Association stepped up to make this happen, activating members to get the equipment, paint the lines, and volunteer as coaches.”
Amuchastegui said local club members are excited about growing the sport in Klamath Falls as well as connecting with youth and families. There are club members who represent three generations.
“It’s a lifelong sport that you can learn and play at any age,” she said. “Once you start playing, you just get hooked.”
Szymoniak sees an opportunity not just for district students but for the community. Klamath Falls currently has indoor pickleball courts at Mike’s Fieldhouse and outdoor courts at Steens Sports Park and Stukel Park. Now the tennis courts at Mazama and Henley can now accommodate pickleball games as well.
Klamath Basin Pickleball Club members are offering training for teachers at KCSD’s inservice later this month, and the district hopes to eventually incorporate pickleball into P.E. programs.
Tiffany Poe, P.E. teacher at Shasta Elementary School, was at the Henley camp Tuesday, helping the coaches and learning the game.
“It’s fun for the kids, and good for hand-eye coordination,” she said.
Pickleball is a game that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong using a paddle and plastic ball with holes.
For the KCSD Pickleball Camp, KBPA president Bill Kuerz developed lesson plans and club member and retired elementary teacher Sandy Pine facilitated how to teach the skills to elementary students.
More than 50 students signed up for the free program, which featured two-hour morning and afternoon sessions coached by 25 volunteers, who embraced teaching the game to the next generation.
One of those volunteers was Greg Cunningham. A firefighter with Klamath County Fire District No. 1, he is one of the lead pickleball coaches for the local club.
Cunningham, a multi-sport competitive athlete in high school, was excited to be working with youth.
“I have never fallen in love with a sport as much as this one,” he said. “It’s just great, and I think the kids are having a blast.”
During a short break in the action, Harper, Archer, and Violet took turns trying to describe pickleball.
They all compared it to tennis, but with a twist.
“Like tennis but different,” Archer said.
“It’s kind of like spike ball plus tennis,” Violet chimed in.
“Like softball plus tennis,” Harper added.
Klamath Basin Pickleball Association offers Pickleball 101 lessons the second Saturday of each month, and is inviting parents to come with their children to learn the sport. For more information, go to their website at www.kbpickleball.com.