Longtime Morgan Hill resident George Witzel, 72, is one of the pickleball regulars at Community Park. Four new courts are scheduled to be installed at the park by year's end. File photo.

When longtime Morgan Hill resident George Witzel, 72, first started playing pickleball four years ago, he had to travel north to cities like San Jose to play. 

That’s no longer the case as three temporary courts were installed in June 2022 at Community Park in addition to the three indoor courts that had already been established at the Centennial Recreation Center.

However, Witzel and local pickleball enthusiasts are particularly excited for the future installation of four new permanent pickleball courts at Community Park. Construction is expected to be complete before the end of the year. 

Witzel noted pickleball’s rising popularity—easily the fastest growing sport in the country—is reflected in the increased participation numbers in Morgan Hill. 

“We really need these new courts,” said Witzel, who along with Tim Hendrick, Sherry Hemingway, Leo Kirshon and Susan Brazelton form the Morgan Hill Pickleball Club, a newly formed program sanctioned through the city’s recreation center that aims to promote the sport, organize events, and fundraise and advocate for the expansion of the sport locally. 

“We have 16 to 20 people playing on weekdays and on the weekends up to 30 players sometimes,” Witzel continued. “The point is it shows the popularity. We’ve told the Parks and Rec Commission if you build it, they’ll come and sure enough they’ve come. Once we get the new, permanent courts, I think those numbers will grow more.”

Chris Ghione, the city’s Community Services Director, acknowledged there has been a big demand for more pickleball courts in Morgan Hill. 

“The pickleball courts are being used like crazy everyday,” Ghione said. 

Witzel credited Ghione as having the foresight to put the temporary courts on the basketball courts rather than tennis courts. That was intentional for a variety of reasons. Public spats between pickleball and tennis players have been well documented in the last couple of years nationally and locally, with Morgan Hill’s neighbor to the south, Gilroy, having particular growing pains between the two sides. 

Ghione and the city decided to install the temporary pickleball courts on the basketball courts as a matter of practicality and to help avoid conflicts. From sunrise to 2pm, the courts at Community Park are used for pickleball. From 2pm to closing, the courts are used for basketball.

“We only have eight tennis courts at Community Park and they’re super busy,” Ghione said. “If we do pickleball on tennis courts then tennis gets interrupted. That’s why we’re trying to do them separate. The basketball courts are rarely being used in the morning [for basketball], so we haven’t had a lot of conflict in terms of tennis and pickleball players.” 

Said Witzel: “I give Chris Ghione a lot of credit for heading that potential conflict off. Initially, we were pushing maybe to get pickleball on the tennis courts, but that probably would’ve created a conflict. Chris hit it off by putting the temporary courts on the basketball courts to avoid that conflict.”

Pickleball’s surge in popularity doesn’t look like it will slow anytime soon. According to a report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, the country had approximately nine million pickleball players in 2022 and participation in the sport has grown an average of 158.6% with a 7.7% forecasted compound annual growth rate through 2028.

“The sport has really taken off with professional leagues now,” Witzel said. “There are all kinds of tournaments and you see commercials now. It’s a tidal wave moving forward.”

As the fastest growing sport in the country for three years running, pickleball is having its moment. The Hub San Jose, a sparkling pickleball dedicated facility with 20 courts, is set to open this month in Campbell. Witzel said Evergreen Valley College in south San Jose recently installed eight pickleball courts on campus. 

“If you go there on the weekends, you can hardly get on the court because the demand is so popular,” he said. “You travel around San Jose and other places around here and every place they’ve opened up courts, they’re all filled up.”

A vital part of pickleball’s appeal is it tends to be action-packed, fast and easier on the body compared to a lot of other sports. That’s why Witzel said most of the people who play at Community Park on weekdays are seniors. 

“A lot of the players in the morning are senior folks,” he said. “That’s the good part of all this. It provides an outlet for us senior folks to get some aerobic exercise, social interaction and having fun at the same time. The courts have provided an avenue for our seniors to do that.”

Said Ghione: “Obviously, there’s a lot of older adults that are playing but some young people enjoying the sport, too. So it’s kind of a multigenerational sport where people can play it even as they get up in age. It’s a neat thing.”

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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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