By Juliet Fang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Plunk! Plunk! Plunk!
These are the sounds emanating from Seattle’s tennis courts as pickleball, a tennis-adjacent sport that uses paddles, gains popularity in the city. Gordon Sata, a board member of Seattle Metro Pickleball Association and devout pickleball player, has inspired this pickleball-playing craze amongst Seattleites by regularly hosting playing events for all ages and experience levels.
“I love pickleball because anyone can play the game,” Sata says passionately. “It’s a great group activity.”
Pickleball’s accessibility for novices and experts alike was woven into the development of the sport early on by founders Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum. Bored one summer evening on Bainbridge Island, the men improvised a game using ping-pong paddles, a plastic ball, and an old badminton court.
The men, realizing how fun the game was, created rules and officially founded the sport of pickleball in 1965. Since then, the sport has been named “the fastest growing sport in the United States,” with almost 5 million players.
Sata was introduced to pickleball by way of his father, who often played during his retirement.
When Sata himself retired after working 34 years in Human Resources at Boeing, he found himself attending pickleball playing sessions at a local Buddhist church, eventually falling in love with the sport. Shortly after, he applied for a Seattle Parks and Recreation Get Moving summer grant, hoping to improve the quality of the playing equipment at his church.
“That’s what my original draft for the grant was about—just getting new equipment. But it soon grew to be much more because the grant could only be used for activities that were open to anyone, not just people at the church. So, I chose several sites around the city that could be used for pickleball and began calling the group Beacon Hill Pickleball and received a grant for equipment to promote the sport in central and southeast Seattle.”
Now, Sata hosts pickleball regularly at Beacon Hill Playfield, Brighton Playfield, and Mt. Baker Park in Seattle. The events are open to all and are especially beginner-friendly, sticking true to pickleball’s promise of accessibility.
“If anyone new is coming, I tell them to come early so that myself or others can spend around a half an hour getting them oriented with the basics of pickleball. Some of our pickleball events are beginners only. More advanced players are encouraged to come later so that the beginners are comfortable learning.”
“Essentially, we want to make sure that the sport is open to everybody. I try to push a strong sense of court etiquette in pickleball. For example, some people want to stay on the court longer if they win and only play against other winners. So, I just tell them they have to either shorten their games to seven points or sit out after they finish their game and wait for another four people to come in.”
Because of its inclusivity, people of all walks of life attend Beacon Hill Pickleball’s events.
Attendees include men, women, retirees, teens, and people of various ethnic backgrounds including Latinos, Chinese Americans, and Japanese Americans. Diversity, Sata comments, is something that he is constantly trying to improve for Beacon Hill Pickleball.
“My favorite part of pickleball is the connection I feel with others that also share the same love of the sport. For instance, I was just at my local grocery store wearing a pickleball shirt when a man approached me and asked me if I played pickleball. We began talking about the sport, and I invited his family to our beginner’s session at Beacon Hill.”
“It made me so happy that someone would come up to me just to talk about pickleball and instantly build human connection through the sport. That’s why I keep hosting these events. The pickleball community is so friendly and wonderful.”
Indeed, pickleball is not about competition for Sata. In his games, he doesn’t count points. Instead, he counts rallies, or the number of times the ball is hit by the players without going out of bounds.
“The community is the important part of pickleball, so I’m not excited by tournament play,” he says. “It’s no fun when points are scored right after one or two hits. The rally is when everyone gets excited—you know, when the ball can get hit six or seven times between the two sides of the court.”
“Also, I’m not trying to smash on the players that attend Beacon Hill Pickleball games. I want to give them a shot and hope others will get better through friendly playing. That’s how I learned the game.”
Currently, Sata is working on growing the number of pickleball players in Seattle by possibly expanding the number of courts Beacon Hill Pickleball hosts its events on. He hopes that pickleball will continue to bring people together and keep the Seattle community active.
“Pickleball has kept me healthy and happy, and I want the Seattle community to feel the same. That’s what I want to accomplish by hosting these events.”
For more information about upcoming pickleball events in Seattle, contact Gordon Sata at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Juliet can be reached at email@example.com.