By Mike Anderson

Pickleball, described as ping-pong played on a tennis court, is the fastest-growing sport in North America.

But you don’t have to tell that to Malcolm Whetter.

The 87-year-old Keswick resident is a passionate advocate for the sport and plays twice a week during the winter months, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, at the Georgina Gym.

“I like the camaraderie, and I like the competition. I like the coffee after, too,” Whetter laughs.

Whetter, who’s been playing the sport for ten years, believes it’s a hit with seniors because it’s easy to learn and good exercise without being too physically demanding.

“It’s good fun; I can tell you that. It’s something that seniors can do. It takes a little bit of concentration. But it’s not overly energetic like tennis.”

Whetter is happy the Town offers multiple drop-in times for beginners and intermediate players, six days a week during the winter session.

Still, he points out that the gym is too small to accommodate regulation pickleball courts, with players struggling to return serve as the walls are too close to the courts.

“The big problem here is you don’t have enough room on the ends,” he said.

Players are also critical of Town’s four outdoor pickleball courts behind the Civic Centre.

The asphalt surface is less than ideal and uneven in spots, which increases the risk of injury.

“It needs to be resurfaced desperately,” said Brian Doiron, 70, who’s been playing for nearly two years.

“It’s uneven. It’s developing potholes, and that could be a safety risk.”

Player gets ready to return serve at Georgina Gym
Playing on asphalt surface at Civic Centre

According to the Town, there are no plans to convert more tennis courts into pickleball courts.

However, three outdoor pickleball courts will be added to the Sports Zone in Pefferlaw.

Three indoor courts are also planned for the MURC, slated to open in 2024.

Still, they are not dedicated pickleball courts. They will share the MURC’s multipurpose gym with other sports, like basketball.

Some players are not happy about that. They would like to see the Town build dedicated pickleball courts with a proper surface outside the MURC.

While several nearby municipalities, like Newmarket, have held Pickleball Summits, or public information sessions, to engage local players and determine their needs. The Town of Georgina has, so far, not followed suit.

However, Justin Mitchell, Director of Elevation Athletics, a not-for-profit multi-sports training academy, is hopeful that may change.

Mitchell has been working with municipalities like Aurora, Newmarket and East Gwillimbury to develop pickleball instructional programs and beginner and advanced leagues.

He says he’s been talking to the Town about bringing the same fee-based programming to Georgina.

It would be run through the Town, and players could sign up on the Town’s website.

But he stresses it would not replace the Town’s drop-ins but would instead augment it.

“We have talented trainers; we have people that want to coordinate the leagues. We have people that want to be a part of the community and help grow pickleball,” he said.

“It will cost a little more, but you’re paying someone to organize that for you. So it’s not just a drop-in.”

Mitchell also suggests the Town should rent gym space from local schools, like Sutton DHS, to help relieve pressure on their existing drop-ins.

He believes demand for more pickleball courts and specialized programming will continue to grow in the coming years as the sport takes root in Ontario.

He says pickleball represented just one per cent of Elevation Athletic’s programs in 2019; now it’s 50 to 60 per cent and growing.

That’s no surprise to the pickleball players at the Georgina Gym.

“It’s a fantastic sport,” said Andrew Mackenzie, 62. “I have no athletic background, and it was easy to learn.”

“Many people are under the misconception that most seniors go to Florida. That’s not true. Probably about 80 per cent of us stay up here. So pickleball is really important.

This is the only opportunity we have to stay physically fit. Because you can’t walk on the sidewalks, they’re full of ice. It’s dangerous.”

“But the other thing it does is it changes your frame of mind. You have something to look forward to. And something to aspire to get better at.”



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