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Cold-blooded Newmarket pickleball crowd keeps swinging despite winter's fury

What’s the difference between this and going skiing?' says regular player
Feb.22, 2021
John Cudmore

Canada produces fine winter sports athletes.

We all know it’s in our DNA as a snow-and-ice nation for half the year.

Our hockey players have a reputation internationally as talented and tough-nosed with character. Sweating maple syrup all over opponents is in our players’ skill set.

Our football guys play in blizzards. Even the Toronto Blue Jays, who were born in a snowstorm one April day in 1977, played in the rain until they put a roof over their diamond.

Now the world may have to deal with our pickleballers.

Practically every day this winter, up to a couple of dozen players converge on pickleball courts located at a mid-Newmarket venue. Temperatures in the minus-teens -- even colder factoring in wind chill -- can’t keep the group, largely retirees, away.

The "thwok-thwok" of paddle smacking whiffle ball has become a familiar sound in the neighbourhood.

Snow? Pfft. Brush it off and start paddling.

If winter pickleball ever becomes an Olympic thing, well, keep an eye on Canada.

Billed as one of the fastest growing sports in North America, pickleball combines elements of tennis, table tennis and badminton. In this case, on converted tennis courts, the playing surface is more easily managed.

When COVID-19 shut down indoor facilities for the winter, the determined group simply stayed outdoors.

“It’s something I thought I’d never do but there’s not many things you can do,” said Debra Scott, who approached municipal officials about waiving normal seasonal closing dates for outdoor facilities. “On cold days, what’s the difference between this and going skiing? If you are dressed appropriately you’re not cold.”

It’s not unusual to see at least four of the six courts at this venue in use on a weekday morning and afternoon shifts.

The courts seem to be the only ones operational in York Region, judging by inquiries from non-Newmarket residents.

“I’m sure it has to do with COVID,” said Scott. “But maybe municipalities need to look at more outdoor recreational facilities. I think there is a gap in recreational facilities.”

Like golf, pickleball is relatively easy to maintain physical distancing between the four players on court.

“When the (COVID) numbers started looking not great and we knew people needed something to do we decided to keep the nets up,” said Newmarket’s director of recreation and culture, Colin Service. “They offered to maintain the courts and the group has been phenomenal about stepping up and cleaning off the snow.”

The cost to the municipality is probably replacing a few worn nets in the spring.

Two tennis courts are also in play at the Keith Davis Tennis Centre in the downtown area this winter.

“It’s a collective effort by everyone and we’ll do anything to get out there and play,” said Terry Minchopoulos, a regular on a crew that removes snow and salts surface ice to keep play flowing. “When there’s lots of snow there might be a dozen people out there helping.”

A former tennis player, he finds the smaller court to his liking.

“In tennis there’s too much running around,” said Minchopoulos, a Newmarket resident, who has been playing pickleball for about five years. “After two hours (of pickleball) you’ve had a really good workout. Younger people are playing, too, because they can pick it up so easily.”

Public health regulations discourage organized league or tournaments. Players arrange matches online and show up.

“It’s a good group of people,” said Scott. “It’s exercise and a bit of social time.

“No one is really organizing anything because you can’t. You can’t mix up the players on different courts. You just set up games with other people and play.”