From Auburn to Roseville, Rocklin and Lincoln, the sport is exploding in Placer County
Jordan Georgeson, Jul 13, 2023 7:00 AM
Seven years ago, Ken Piscitelli of Auburn had a rude awakening from his doctor. Piscitelli, then 78, was told to “get off of his you know what and stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
A harsh message turned into a new passion for Piscitelli, as it introduced him to pickleball, which is sweeping the nation and has become one of the fastest-growing sports around.
“Baseball was my cup of tea,” Piscitelli explained. “I started the Auburn Cardinals, but my last year with them was in 2000.”
But with his message from his doctor, Piscitelli dived head first into the pickleball craze. He became a student and historian of the game and has shown his passion for the history of the sport in Placer County and the Sacramento area and shared it with those around him who want to get involved.
Piscitelli describes pickleball as a combination of ping pong and badminton, citing several aspects of the game that are derived from each.
“You can put a spin on the ball like in ping pong, and the movements and court size are more like badminton,” Piscitelli said.
Pickleball combines the elements of several racquet sports and is played with a paddle and ball with holes in it. It is enjoyed by all skill levels, and it is not uncommon to find beginning and novice players in the same tournaments as professionals.
The origin of the sport dates to 1965 in the Puget Sound on Bainbridge Island, according to USA Pickleball, but its origins in Sacramento can be traced to Placer County.
According to Piscitelli, pickleball pioneers in the area were Jack and Joyce Cole, who were introduced to the sport in Washington in 2000. The Coles decided to bring pickleball to Meadow Vista, where they chalked lines on a tennis court and taught friends how to play the game.
One afternoon, Chick and Ingrid Koening were walking their dog at Meadow Vista Park and heard a commotion coming from the courts. They took a peek to see what all the fuss was about and discovered a group of pickleball players, prompting them to head home to retrieve their paddles and join. The Koenings were familiar with the game, having played in Arizona.
Chick worked for Placer County and pushed the Auburn Area Recreation and Parks District to convert one of their tennis courts into four pickleball courts in 2008. The decision was a good one, as the sport exploded in popularity in the following years.
People came from all over the county and as far as Sacramento and Placerville to partake in the festivities, oftentimes bringing the game back home to spread it in their areas.
“I think the district had a big hand in pickleball growing in Placer County,” ARD Administrator Kahl Muscott said. “One of the first things people asked when we brought it up was, ‘What the hell is pickleball?’ But we’ve seen an explosion. It’s just taken over and it’s a good thing.
“These people are coming from everywhere, especially the people that are playing in their 70s and 80s. They’re physically active now and you see how much better it’s making them feel. Those are really cool stories to hear.”
Among those people are Piscitelli, who Muscott has grown close with over the years as he has become a regular at pickleball courts across the region. Piscitelli insists if it weren’t for pickleball, he wouldn’t be here today.
“It saved my life. I only have one kidney, and you know, I’m still doing well and guys my age are dropping out,” said Piscitelli, now 86. “I’m getting tired. There are seven different meds I take in the morning and five in the evening, but I’m able to keep on going.”
Piscitelli said he was supposed to have a heart stent installed in 2020 but still hasn’t done so and credits pickleball to keeping him healthy. He also has yet to miss a meeting centered around pickleball courts at ARD.
“I went to 12 meetings last year for pickleball and I’m the only one, including board members, to have never missed a meeting,” Piscitelli said.
Today, pickleball has grown into one of the top recreational sports in Placer County. Some of the top courts in the area are at the Sunrise Pickleball Club and Johnson Ranch, both of which have hosted major tournaments.
Johnson Ranch in Roseville is hosting a National Pickleball tournament July 21-23 with nearly 300 entrants. There will be brackets for men’s and women’s singles and doubles as well as mixed doubles, and there will be amateur and senior pro divisions.
Johnson Ranch is no stranger to hosting major pickleball events. In April, it was host to the Association of Pickleball Professionals Sunmed Sacramento Open with more than 700 players. It was the second consecutive year the APP came to Johnson Ranch, and according to pickleball director Samantha Martinez, the energy was “off the hook.”
Having nationwide pickleball tournaments come through Placer County is huge for the region and helps put it on the map. In a sport like pickleball, word travels quickly within the community and Placer County having a positive reputation can help make it a hotspot for players.
These are several reasons why Muscott had a hand in the construction of more pickleball courts in Auburn, saying the decision was a “no-brainer.”
“We are converting old basketball courts into pickleball courts behind city hall. It’s going to have a unique look,” Muscott said. “It is a very social sport and we want to attract players here. When new players want to come in, they find that players are very welcoming. They’re always trying to bring in new players and we want to bring those players here.”
Muscott said he hopes Auburn reaches the point it can host tournaments and put itself on the pickleball map the same way Roseville has.
Auburn isn’t the only city in Placer County that has bought into the pickleball craze. Rocklin is on the way to approving the Sunset Whitney Recreation Area, which would include an area called The Hub with 14 pickleball courts. Rocklin Vice-Mayor Bill Haldin said during discussions in February he recognized a need for pickleball in the city.
Lincoln is also getting pickleball courts at McBean Park after a unanimous vote in October 2022.
With pickleball growing at such a rapid rate, Placer County residents can expect to see more courts popping up around the region.
As Muscott put it, “It didn’t really take much convincing. It is no secret how popular pickleball is now.”