Islanders gather for pickleball at the BHS tennis courts.

Islanders gather for pickleball at the BHS tennis courts.

Tennis players crowd the courts on Bainbridge

  • Monday, January 14, 2019 8:44am
  • Sports

It was 39 degrees and the Rose Bowl was airing, but that didn’t stop tennis-lovers from filling all six courts at Bainbridge High School on the first day of January 2019.

That’s because when Julie Riely, Bainbridge Community Tennis Association chair, sees a dry day approaching, she sends an email invite to more than 100 people who have signed up to receive them.

Players on Jan. 1 ranged from high school student Marianne Milander, with picture-perfect tennis strokes, to crafty septuagenarians who have been playing their entire lives. Every tennis roster is different, with so many players to draw on, and that keeps games fresh and fun.

The tennis association cannot usually play on Tuesdays in December through mid-May, because the school district has a closed campus policy during school hours. Winter months are too dark to play when school adjourns. And when it is light in the spring, the high school team occupies the courts after school.

Association officials say that court space is not only a problem for tennis players on Bainbridge Island, but also for the burgeoning pickleball group. Pickleball, which was developed on Bainbridge in 1965 by Islanders Joel Pritchard, William Bell and Barney McCallum, is currently one of the fastest growing sports in America.

While both tennis and pickleball can be played individually, what makes them so popular is organized group play. Both racket sports have developed communities of players who enjoy the social aspect of playing together and the diversity that comes with larger numbers.

As the tennis community has grown in recent years, they have watched the Waterfront Park tennis courts taken over by the rowing club, and the pickleball group make the Battle Point Park tennis courts their home.

The association in recent years has been lobbying the park district to put racket courts in the new Sakai Park, as BCTA considers it an ideal location for several reasons. The high school tennis team has exploded in recent years and cannot field a full C-team for lack of court space. A large percentage of tennis and pickleball players are seniors, many of whom live in Winslow, and there are currently no public racket courts in the walkable Winslow core.

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