A Pickleball Court Pops Up in North Old Town

Pickleball originated in the West, in 1965 on a family property in Bainbridge Island, Washington. Now, its casually competitive nature is finding comfort with modern-day Alexandrians.

Neighbors sport smiles under their masks.
(Photos: Grace Billups Arnold)

Alexandria, VA – Pickleball originated in the West, in 1965 on a family property in Bainbridge Island, Washington. Now, its casually competitive nature is finding comfort with modern-day Alexandrians.

“A couple of members of the north Old Town neighborhood, after seeing the same thing done in another Alexandria neighborhood, built a pickleball court. Now it’s all the rage in both neighborhoods,” says Shannon McGahey, a resident of North Old Town.

Similar to original court, Alexandria residents Ram Todd (McGahey’s husband), and friend Steve Weir set up their court in a local parking lot, using a portable pickleball net, certified ball and paddles, and painted boundaries.

How big is the court?

A typical pickleball court is 20 by 40 feet, with boundaries similar to a tennis court. Building one could cost between $11 to $22 per square foot if you pour and design an asphalt court. However, Todd and Weir opted for the more cost-effective, neighborhood friendly version. “The area in the alley,” says McGahey, “is large enough that the neighbors come around, stay spread out, and stop to chat.”

Local residents play pickleball on new Alexandria court

A pickleball court can be set up on any firm surface, like a parking lot, driveway, or even cul-de-sac. The only required materials are a portable net, which is approximately $200; chalk, tape, or paint for boundaries; and paddles, which average between $10 and $50. These, however, you could improvise, as did the pioneers of the game.

How is pickleball played?

The rules of pickleball are simple: You play to 11 points and must be ahead by 2 points to win. You must serve underhand and diagonally across court, and the ball must bounce once before it can be returned. Be wary of the “kitchen” or “non-volley zone.” The kitchen is similar to the side alleys in tennis, but not on the side. The kitchen runs along the net, making a no volley zone right in front of the net on both sides. If the ball enters the kitchen, it must bounce once in that space and bounce again before a player can volley it in return.

Pickleball paddle

“No one really knows the game. It’s a mix of table tennis and tennis, but nothing like the two,” Todd says. “You have to change your structure of the flow of you hitting the ball.” Official rules were written in 1965, but pickleball is truly about finding a play-style that works for you.

Why pickleball and why now?

Pickleball is a safer way to work out, as well as connect with neighbors, so it suits the new, unconventional ways of the world. As both in-home and outdoor workouts become more popular, it is no surprise that pickleball is picking up. It is the ideal backyard sport, which incorporates both the at home and outdoor elements of the COVID-19 era. “It makes you move and that’s the great thing about it,” says Todd.

When asked how pickleball cooperates complements COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines, Todd chuckles, “Have a beer, choose a partner, get out there on the court, spread out. The hard part is telling people they can’t come.”

The pickleball court is pet friendly.

“I have to say, we’ve a few new neighbors we probably wouldn’t have been met at this point, but for the pickleball court,” McGahey adds. If you want to join Shannon, Ram, Steve, or simply introduce yourself to the game of pickleball, swing by 623 North Columbus St on any beautiful weekend, as several others in Alexandria, including me, are doing.

DIY light stand to play after sunset.

The original purpose…was to provide a game that the whole family could play together, according to USA Pickleball (usapickleball.org). This original goal has not been lost on Todd and Weir. They have expanded it and championed the game for the entire Alexandria community because they know that being socially distant does not have to mean being anti-social.

ICYMI: Mary Beth Pagnella Wants to Read Your Lips! Everyone’s Lips.

1 COMMENT

  1. “If the ball enters the kitchen, it must bounce once in that space and bounce again before a player can volley it in return.”
    I think you’ve garbled the kitchen rule and mixed it up with the serving rule. If a player enters the kitchen the ball must bounce before being hit.
    Separately, if receiving the serve it must bounce before being returned, and the return must also bounce before being hit. After that first exchange of bounced returns the ball may be volleyed without bouncing. Youtube has no end of example videos.
    Rules aside, thanks for the shout-out for pickleball. It is a great game and city rec centers have offered indoor open court times for several years. Now, with the pandemic, only a couple of outdoor tennis courts with pickleball lines are being used. But an intrepid few have been playing most weekday mornings since June. We have a google group to coordinate where and when.
    Alexandria RPCA has resumed beginning and intermediate classes. Info is on the alexandriava.org website.

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