Shoveling out of a pickle: Local pickleball players make the most of public courts in winter months
Every day the weather permits, a group of Sanford physical therapists play pickleball on the shoveled court at Algoma Park during their lunch breaks.
Jeff Breyen hit a shot that sailed out of bounds in a local pickleball game on Wednesday afternoon. He turned to his teammate, Jarad Syrstad, and jokingly said, “That was strategy. We got ’em right where we want ’em.”
The ball sails out of bounds after most points, but the retrieval process for a group of Sanford physical therapists is a little trickier. Scott Cirks made the knee-deep plunge into the side of a snowbank just a few feet from the side of the shoveled pickleball court at Algoma Park.
“One year, we played every month of the year together,” Breyen said. “Last year wasn’t the case, but we play pretty regularly now.”
Every day the weather permits, the pickleball enthusiasts spend their lunch breaks in the heat of battle. On March 29, Syrstad, Breyen, Cirks and their coworker Mike Morris, played four games before returning to work. Bundled in sweatpants, gloves, hoodies and hats, the cold weather isn’t killing their pickleball spirit.
“It’s a good break in the work day,” Breyen said. “We all come out at noon, play for a bit, then go back to work. It’s something to look forward to.”
When it snows, it’s time to break out the shovel. With the help of Nathan Daniels, a regular in the group who was absent on Wednesday, the guys clear off the 88-foot playing surface before the games begin. They also bring their own net to and from the park.
“We were all in high school (and) college sports,” Morris said. “We’re all competitive, and pickleball is a good way to keep the competitive juices flowing through the body. It’s basically our core group that comes out and shovels it here.”
“We used to play ultimate frisbee during lunch, but it’s hard shoveling a football field,” Cirks joked.
The physical therapists have played together for the better part of four years, and for them, the hurdles of carving out the brief window for winter pickleball are worth the effort. Despite their hopes for Bemidji to build an indoor pickleball center right next to the Sanford Bemidji Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center, shoveling will suffice in the meantime.
“It’s a great game,” Breyen said of pickleball. “It can get over the top sometimes, but there’s a lot of camaraderie. It carries over into the work we do. It’s just a good way for us to have some fun.”