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Pickleball comes to Bemidji

Dave Johnson prepares to hit a forehand during Monday night’s pickleball session in the Boys & Girls Club of Bemidji Area gymnasium. Jim Johnston, pictured at right, served as Johnson’s partner for the second half of the evening session. Bethany Wesley | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 2
Alex White, left, a member of the Bemidji State University Physical Education, Health and Sport Club, offers some pickleball instruction to Steve Hostetter, who took part in the city’s first pickleball night last Monday at the Boys & Girls Club of Bemidji Area. Bethany Wesley | Bemidji Pioneer2 / 2

BEMIDJI – On any given Monday night, you’ll be able hear whacks and laughs echoing off the walls of the Boys & Girls Club gymnasium.

Pickleball has come to Bemidji.

“It’s not quite as vigorous as tennis, but a little more vigorous than pingpong,” said Steven Hostetter, who tried out the game last Monday with his wife, Brenda.

Pickleball, a racquet sport, is played with a wooden paddle and wiffle ball on a badminton court with a lowered net.

Brenda Hostetter said she first tried pickleball – or something close to it – while teaching in Alaska eight years ago.

“I felt like this was easier to pick up,” she said after playing for 90 minutes.

Pickleball is offered through Bemidji Parks and Recreation 6:30-8 p.m. Mondays at the Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area; the cost is $2 per night. Players of any skill level are invited to come learn the game.

Dave Johnson decided to try it out as he was looking for some light exercise to rehabilitate his leg. Johnson broke his leg in November – the day before deer-season opener – and he had his cast taken off on Dec. 1.

“It’s great; I liked it,” he said after the first session. “I’ll be back.”

All ages and ranges of abilities are invited to try out the game, which can be played in singles or doubles. Pickleball nights in Bemidji are not league-play sessions but less formal, open sessions to allow players to adapt to the game.

Jim Johnston first tried pickleball 10 years ago while in Seattle.

“It was perfect,” he said of Monday’s first opening session. “It was good fun, a good way to get some exercise indoors.”

That was precisely the goal of offering pickleball, said Marcia Larson, Bemidji’s parks and recreation director.

“It’s a good way to have some fun and get some exercise inside when it’s 20 below (zero) outside,” she said.

The city obtained a grant through the USA Pickleball Association that covered most of the costs for nets, paddles and balls.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive comments,” Larson said. “We’re hoping after (Monday’s session) that we’ll keep expanding a little bit and draw more players.”

Two doubles courts were active at the first session as players adjusted to the game and its rules. Instruction and guidance was provided by members of the BSU Physical Education, Health and Sport Club.

“It’s a great partnership between the city and BSU,” Larson said.