Pickleball Catches Fire in Maple Grove

Senior citizens—and, really, any weekend warrior athlete —can enjoy the growing popularity of pickleball.
Gail and Dan Hanka play pickleball at Rush Creek in Maple Grove.

As Maple Grove’s self-appointed “ambassadors” to pickleball, Dan and Gail Hanka have been pleased with their stewardship in the last two years.

“Yeah, it’s satisfying, very much so,” says Dan Hanka, 71. “And hopefully, it’s a way for others to keep active; it’s a very good way to do it.”

The budding racket sport of pickleball has spread through the senior-citizen community with the first private courts at Four Seasons at Rush Creek, three indoor public courts added at the Maple Grove Community Center (thanks, in part, to the Hankas) and four outdoor public courts added at Kerber Park in the last two years. Earlier this summer, six more outdoor public courts were added at Lakeview Knolls Park.

“You don’t see this in every community,” says Richard Carter, publisher of pickleballminnesota.com. “In fact, you don’t see it in that many communities.”

Carter has tracked the growth of the sport in the state for the last few years. He says snowbirds like the Hankas, who winter in Arizona, introduced the sport to the state. Bloomington was the first city to play about seven years ago, and now about 70 cities host the sport, Carter figures.

“Maple Grove has made a noticeably large investment in their community health, wellness and quality of life,” Carter writes. “With a new and very large community center and number of outdoor parks, Maple Grove has been a progressive supporter of pickleball.”

If the Hankas are the ambassadors, Kris Orluck is the envoy. As the senior coordinator at Maple Grove Parks and Recreation, Orluck added pickleball to the programming with the urging of the Hankas. Today, pickleball can be played six days a week, and more than 120 people have signed up for clinics or registration-based open play. Orluck hosted a small dozen-player tournament as part of Maple Grove Days last year, and this year a much larger tournament with four divisions was hosted by the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association.

“We have pickleball what seems like all the time,” Orluck says with a laugh.  The reason for the growth is simple, Orluck, Hanka and Carter agree.

“It is a fabulous, fun game,” Orluck says. “It’s a tennis-like game on a much smaller like court. It’s a slower game because the ball you are playing with is a whiffle ball. It’s a very competitive game, but it’s also a very equalizing game, so men and women can play against each other at an equal pace, which is nice. It’s easy to learn and it’s a very social game. People really play to have fun as well as to have the competitive piece and the workout.”

“It’s been amazing for us to see how quickly they’ve developed into pickleball players,” Hanka says of other seniors. “People that didn’t do anything in the past, activity wise and they are getting the idea that they have to keep moving.”//


What is Pickleball?

The leisure sport known as pickleball is played on a badminton court with a net lowered to 34 inches tall. Each player has a wood or composite paddle, and the ball is similar to a whiffle ball.

Games of either one-on-one or doubles are played to 11 points, with a two-point margin needed to win. Teams only score when they have the serve.

Serves must be hit underhand and diagonally into the inbounds service area, or past the 7-foot line parallel to the net. Only one serve attempt is allowed, unless it’s a let, which is replayed. After the serve, each team must hit their first shot off a bounce. After the first hit, the volley can continue with hits of the ball that haven’t yet bounced.

No shots may be hit when a player is in a 7-foot-wide area in front of the net, an area known as the “kitchen,” in order to help limit powerful overhand hits.

For more details on rules, visit the U.S. Pickleball Association.


If you are interested in learning more about pickleball’s offering through parks and rec, call 763.494.6500 or email korluck@maplegrovemn.gov.