It would be hard to find two places as different as Medicine Hat and Rincon.
Medicine Hat is a small farming bedroom community in Alberta, Canada, near the Southern Saskatchewan border. Rincon is a small coastal town on the West coast of Puerto Rico, most known for its popular surf break.
This time of year, Medicine Hat is covered in snow, and Rincon is covered, as always, in penny-sized tree frogs known as coqui.
But Medicine Hat and Rincon now have something in common – both cities have gone crazy for pickleball and both will be hosting first-ever pickleball tournaments this year.
Medicine Hat will host the 2022 Pickleball Alberta Provincial Championships in July at a new 20-court outdoor facility that is being built with COVID-19 municipal stimulus money.
The local pickleball club there applied and received a $2 million grant from those funds to build a pickleball complex at the Big Marble Go Centre, which already has a gym, hockey rink, soccer field, and swimming pool.
The new pickleball complex will be owned by the city but operated by the local pickleball club.
“Just like everywhere else, pickleball has become huge here,” said Brenda Lea MacPhail, a local club member who will be the tournament director.
MacPhail, 61, started playing pickleball four years ago, and describes herself as a “3.5 / 4.0” player.
“The game is addictive,” said MacPhail, who winters in Arizona where she can play during the cold-weather months. “The social aspect of the game is what keeps me going.
“Most of my friends now are people I’ve met through pickleball.”
Due to Canadian winters and a reliance on outdoor courts, the pickleball season in Medicine Hat goes from April to October or shorter, depending on the weather.
The local club, which started in 2010 has gradually grown to more than 200 members and has been using a combination of eight permanent and eight temporary courts scattered around the city.
“I believe that if you build it, they will come,” MacPhail said. “I already know of two people who have moved here because of the pickleball courts we are building.”
The new pickleball complex will feature a championship court with bleachers for the medal matches and lights on some courts for night play.
The inaugural July tournament will be restricted to players who live in Alberta.
“Our minimum goal is 350 players,” MacPhail said. “If every category is filled, we’ll get 1,600 players.”
In the meantime, the local players will have a permanent, new state-of-the art place to play pickleball for a seasonal fee of $80.
“We’re seeing a surge of players from 19 to 40 years old,” MacPhail said.
Thousands of miles and 32 degrees of Latitude to the south, the Puerto Rican town of Rincon is also preparing for a pickleball tournament.
In Rincon, a no-stoplight town that’s a three-hour drive across the island from the capital of San Juan, the pickleball craze could be traced to one couple.
Last July, Rincon residents Paul and Allyson Green decided to give pickleball a try. There were no courts in town and none in the area.
But there were four tennis courts in various states of disrepair at the Rincon Municipal Sports Center, across from the Church’s Chicken on the city’s main drag.
Allyson Green, 62, started a Facebook group optimistically called “Rincon Pickleball League” and announced game mornings every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
“Paul and I had no racket or paddle experience in any sport,” Green said. “We just ordered paddles and invited other people to come out and learn the game with us.”
They painted yellow lines on the tennis courts to mark out the pickleball courts, brought portable nets, and a bucket of balls. And people started showing up.
“We started getting people who were driving an hour each way to play,” Green said.
The Rincon Pickleball League started with one portable net. It’s up to seven now. And routinely, 40 to 50 people show up to play on the three pickleball mornings in Rincon.
“It’s the most clever little game,” Green, 62, said. “You can learn it in five minutes – except for the scoring.
“We get five or six new people who want to play every time,”
Green said her dream is to get other municipalities in the area to begin their own pickleball clubs so that neighboring communities could play each other.
But in the meantime, she is organizing Rincon’s first pickleball tournament. It’s a one-day event on Sunday, March 13.
As many as 40 pickleball players are expected to compete, she said.
The local high school kids will operate the concession stand, there may or may not be T-shirts, and the police will do traffic control if there is traffic to control.
“This is a first,” Green said.