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Pickleball lesson brings joy to players and teachers

Something ordinary yet remarkable happened at Fort Hill Activity Center last Wednesday morning. A small group of pickleball players got together with 13 young adults in the Rec & Roll program of the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association (WDSRA) to play pickleball. 

“This was the best thing I have done in a long time,” said Kim Neppl, a Naperville pickleball player and a pickleball ambassador with the USA Pickleball Association. “There was so much joy. All of the students were having fun and we, as teachers, were having a blast.”
Front row: Nancy, Trina, Kim and Gil 
About Pickleball
Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the country and in Naperville. The Park District added its first 4 outdoor dedicated pickleball courts in fall 2018 at Nike Sports Complex and hosted the first Chicago Pickleball Open in July 2019. Pickleball is easy to learn, and can be played by nearly all ages. Another advantage is that pickleball is a social sport, usually played as doubles. Pickleball open gyms at Fort Hill and other locations have a system where individual players can rotate in. Players waiting along the sidelines are friendly and helpful, making newcomers feel welcome. 

The Rec & Roll Pickleball Clinic: Even better than we imagined 
Brandon Quaintance, the head instructor for the WDSRA Rec & Roll program that meets at Sportsman’s Clubhouse in Naperville often brings his participants to Fort Hill Activity Center to use the walking track and gymnasium. Occasionally they have tried pickleball on their own. 

Seeing the Rec & Roll group on the indoor track at Fort Hill inspired Kim Neppl and another pickleball ambassador, Trina Reyes, to organize a clinic for Rec & Roll. "A friend put me in touch with the contact person from WDSRA," said Trina. "It took almost a year from start to finish to plan this event." Kim and Trina teamed up with two other regular pickleball players, Nancy Burns and Gil Barker to offer the clinic and coordinated the time and space with Fort Hill staff.

They began the lesson with basic skills but went on to set up doubles teams so that everyone could try playing a few games. Some of the players already had some basic skills, some had physical challenges that made it difficult to hit the ball, but most succeeded in playing the game and none got frustrated. Kim said that when one of the players finally was able to make contact with the ball, his eyes lit up with joy. “That was what it was all about for me,” said Kim. 
Immediately after the clinic, the WDSRA participants had more fun ahead of them. The pickleball teachers planned an awards ceremony and Gil brought lunch for everyone. Each participant was called forward and given a certificate and a chocolate. Everyone had been encouraged to name their pickleball paddle, and when they received their award, they called out the name of their paddle and everyone cheered. 

"Seeing the delight on their faces when they named their paddles was priceless," said Trina. "And so worth the wait."

Kim and Trina hope to offer more clinics in the future, spreading their enthusiasm for the sport. “I love pickleball and being able to share it with others,” said Kim. 

View the video story from NCTV here.

Learn more about pickleball at the Naperville Park District in this earlier ParkTalk blog post and listen to a series of ParkTalk podcast episodes about the sport.

View the current open gym schedule at Fort Hill Activity Center that includes pickleball open gyms 5 days a week.

The Park District offers Pickleball Basics and Skills and Drills programs at Fort Hill Activity Center. These programs give beginners the instruction they need to begin enjoying this fun sport. For more experienced players who want to play regularly, the Park District now has a Pickleball Adult League at Fort Hill Activity Center and plans more opportunities to play both indoors and outdoors during the warm seasons.