By Chris Hockman
Red Line Editorial
On a perfect, crystal-clear July day in West Linn, Oregon, a group of 16 teenagers descended on Hammerle Park for pickleball. The Lake Oswego and Willamette River pickleball clubs, together with Down Syndrome Network Oregon, teamed up for an unforgettable event.
According to event organizers, teenagers with Down syndrome are forgotten in outreach efforts or are treated like outsiders.
That made them a perfect choice for this event, which was the brainchild of Beth Corey and Pat Hogan.
“We specifically wanted to work with the older kids and young adults,” Hogan said. “The Down Syndrome Network said it was harder to find people willing to work with that group, but it was honestly our preference.”
With an army of 40 volunteers — and “we could have had even more,” Hogan noted — the clubs were ready to introduce the group to pickleball.
Like most teenagers, there was some apprehension about working with new people, especially adults, but it wasn’t long before everyone was laughing and smiling, and pickleball was a big hit.
“It was beyond what I thought it could be,” Corey said. “We had 16 kids show up with their parents. Everyone was willing to help, and the best thing was these kids had a great time. Some of the kids, and the parents, are wondering, ‘So when are we going to do it again?’”
The teens proved eager to participate and learn something new, with members instructing them how to play pickleball.
Giving back to the community is something that the pickleball clubs in Oregon see as very important, not just for the community but also to boost the sport. This is especially true in Lake Oswego, a Portland suburb that recently lost its public pickleball court.
“Had we have done this event before the decision, I don’t think we’d have lost our courts,” Hogan said. “We want to be more than just a group of people that get together and play pickleball. We want to be a group that adds value to our community, and we were talking about what kind of things we could do to add value to our community.”
That’s important to Corey and Hogan, and to that end, it’s vital to them and to both clubs that this not be a one-time event. The Lake Oswego and Willamette River clubs have already partnered with Rolling Hills Community Church, which has indoor courts, to do the event again as the weather becomes colder and wetter.
All this stems from a desire to make the area a better place. It started with a meeting to look at outreach opportunities and went from there, with dozens of members ultimately helping out. Corey was instrumental, using her personal connections with Down Syndrome Network Oregon to get the ball rolling.
“I had been involved with the Down Syndrome Network in Lake Oswego,” Corey said. “Everyone thought it was a great idea and said go for it. I have a friend whose daughter has Down syndrome and she hooked me up with Cindy at the Down Syndrome Network, and it just took off.”
The event was so well-received that other pickleball clubs have picked up the paddle and run with it. The Oregon clubs have members who are part-time residents of Arizona and have promised to bring this idea to their clubs in that state.
Spending any time with Corey and Hogan talking about the event makes clear just how much they value using the power of pickleball to make a difference. Hogan firmly believes that other clubs can and should take this model and use it in their local areas.
“It begins with contacting your local Down syndrome association, whatever that is in your area,” Hogan said. “They did most of the organizing work as they coordinated the kids and the parents to bring them out, which helped us. They were very happy to hear from us; they let us know that it’s normally them reaching out to people for events and not the other way around.”
Chris Hockman is a sportswriter based in Texas. He has covered the last six Paralympic Games and the last three men’s and women’s FIFA World Cups. He has been featured in NPR, the BBC, the ABC (Australia) and Fox Sports. He is a freelance contributor to USA Pickleball on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.