While the Asian Resource Center has been around since the Robert Chinn Foundation built it in 1994, their pickleball program began just 18 months ago. In that time, the locally grown sport of pickleball has been demonstrated to be much more than just a game. It’s been a way for people in the API community to stay fit and stay connected.
Located in Seattle’s International District, the Asian Resource Center houses one of the city’s 15 pickleball courts.
Mark Nakagawa, a staff member for the Asian Resource Center, says that they’ve averaged 24 players a day since the pickleball program began.
“In the afternoons there wasn’t anything going on here,” says Derek Chinn, the Board Treasurer of the Chinn Foundation. “So we needed some sort of activity to get people to come.”
The brainchild of former Rep. Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell, pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island after both men found their families with nothing to do on a summer day. It has since garnered a large amount of attention, with an estimated 100,000 players across the globe, according to the USA Pickleball Association.
Played with either two or four people, pickleball combines elements of other paddle sports. The game uses paddles that are a bit larger than the ones used in ping-pong, and players hit a wiffle ball over a net that resembles those found in tennis courts. The rules of the sport also feature elements of tennis and badminton.
All of this takes place on a court the same size as a badminton doubles court.
Nakagawa, who has a background in sporting goods, suggested pickleball for the center space. He says pickleball is a more social event than other sports.
“People who play here, they don’t always know each other,” Nakagawa says. “It’s a social game.”
Nakagawa attributes the social nature of the game to its accessibility as a sport that is open to all ages.
“There are no physical body types that preclude you from playing pickleball,” Nakagawa says. “It’s not an athletic event. That’s not true of all sports.”
Case in point: Ray Soo and his wife, Sally, aren’t letting their age get in the way of their playing time.
“I’m 85 years old, and she’s 81,” Soo says. “I play about two times a week, every Tuesday and Thursday.”
Soo, who played basketball for Seattle University from 1950 to 1953, says that pickleball is a great way for people his age to get exercise.
“I can’t play basketball anymore,” he says. “[Pickleball is] a slower game than tennis. You don’t have to have a lot of power to play.”
Soo agrees with Nakagawa’s sentiments regarding the social aspect of the game.
“It’s good companionship. You meet a lot of people here,” Soo says.
Most people Soo’s age are retired, he explains, and usually end up being alone. Pickleball allows the elderly to get around, see old friends, and make new ones as well.
One of the people you can meet out on the pickleball courts is current USAPA Vice President Mark Friedenberg. Nicknamed “Yoda” for his vast knowledge of the game, as well as his ability to “use the force,” Friedenberg believes that pickleball has two main benefits.
“It creates a social organization. It brings people together,” Freidenberg says. “We have parties, which is great. The other thing it does is it gets people off the couch. It saves lives.”
Friedenberg says he plays at the Asian Resource Center because of its fun environment and close proximity to his house. He also uses the Asian Resource Center to give lessons. Two months ago Friedenberg held a pickleball clinic there, and hopes to do more, since the level of play there is for experienced players.
“Each community center has different skill levels,” says Soo. “They don’t have any beginners here.”
Nakagawa says he looks forward to bringing in more new players through more clinics, as well as holding tournaments to attract veteran competitors. He remains optimistic about the sport’s potential for getting more people involved in the community.
“It’s not all Asians in here playing,” Nakagawa says. “We opened up a facility that is for the community.”
The Asian Resource Center opens its pickleball courts to the public every week, Tuesday to Friday, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The fee is $3 per player, per day. For more information, visit www.asianresourcecenter.org.