Ellie Armstrong, 76, smashes a shot as Merv Armstrong, 79, looks on. The duo played in the 2.5 category in mixed doubles of the Red Deer Pickleball Open on Saturday at the Pines Community Courts. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Video: Pickleball frenzy reaching its peak in Red Deer

The Red Deer Pickleball Open sold out in 15 minutes earlier this summer.

The third annual tournament, hosted on the weekend by the Red Deer Pickleball Club continues to be a hot spot for one of fastest growing sports around.

This year the event was so popular, RDPBC vice-president Terry Hanasyk only managed to get into one of the three categories he usually plays in.

“I wanted to play more than Men’s Doubles and also wanted to play in the singles. But that filled up and I couldn’t get in and I’m the vice president of the club,” said the 73-year-old pickleball veteran.

“That’s how quick it sold out. We anticipate if we opened it up for as many people as 20 courts could hold, we would fill it up. That could be 400 people.”

The club capped the entries this year in the event at 206 players, the most they could hold at the Pines Community Centre courts.

They hope with their new 20-court facility near St. Joseph High School, which they expect to be completed next spring, the tournament will grow even bigger. Along with the tournament, they hope to draw in plenty of new members to their top-notch facility. Hanasyk thinks players from Sylvan Lake, Ponoka, Blackfalds and others all across Central Alberta will start to trickle into Red Deer next summer.

“We are finding this sport is growing really rapidly. We started out with 2o members and now we’re at 200. We’ve basically grown 10 fold in five years,” Hanasyk added.

“We think that our club now which is 200 members, it will probably grow to maybe 300 in short order.”

Those new members will ideally come from all over Central Alberta, but there’s also been growth in an unexpected demographic for the sport.

This year the open tournament had plenty of youth involved, players as young as 11 were competing and are starting to enjoy the game. Hanasyk thinks that is just an untapped market for such a compelling game.

“There were some 14-year-olds playing in the tournament. I have grandchildren and they love the game. Every time we go out they want to play and they’re good,” Hanasyk said.

“It’s a sport for all ages. It’s growing downward… the younger people are coming up and it’s growing faster on the younger side.”

Another local who has seen the game flourish from near the beginning is Merv Armstrong. The 79-year-old took up the sport around 1997 in Arizona and was instantly hooked.

He got chatting with some folks in Red Deer in the early 2000s and they hit the ground running with 20 or so players. He said it’s easy to see why so many people want to play around here.

“We started playing around 2003. There was nobody that hardly knew pickleball. There was no one that really played. It’s great exercise,” he said.

Ellie Armstrong, 76, added that for her, it’s such a fun game and the friendships that come out of it are some of the main reasons she keeps playing.

“It’s an inexpensive game to play. You meet a lot of people. There are all levels of play. If you want to play seriously we have a place for that. It’s great. The camaraderie is great,” she said.

Merv and Ellie partnered up for the first time in mixed doubles play Saturday and she said it was a blast.

“It’s great, he’s been really good and I’ve been holding up my end,” said Ellie with a chuckle.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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Ian Miller of the Parkland Pickleheads returns a shot as teammate Pamela Boutin looks on during mixed doubles play at the Red Deer Pickleball Open on Saturday at Pines Community Courts. More than 200 competitors played over the course of three days at the event. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT)

Ellie Armstrong, 76, smashes a shot as Merv Armstrong, 79, looks on. The duo played in the 2.5 category in mixed doubles of the Red Deer Pickleball Open on Saturday at the Pines Community Courts. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

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