Since 2015, Pat Heurtin has been championing the sport of pickleball around West Feliciana and beyond.

Heurtin, a retired health and physical education, saw her first pickleball at a health and physical education convention in the late 1970s. She brought the sport and a box of paddles and ball to Baker High, where she was teaching. Her students loved the game.

She later brought the sport to West Feliciana when she taught a class on pickleball through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute program. She credited the West Feliciana Parish Sports Park and its director Robert Hunter and the West Feliciana Parish School Board with supporting the new sports program. Hunter, who was from Pennsylvania, was familiar with the sport and eager to bring it to the park. The West Feliciana Pickleball club was born and has more than 70 members.

Pickleball, which started in 1965 in Washington, is a paddleball sport that brings together the elements of badminton, table tennis and tennis. Games are played with two or four players, who use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a perforated polymer ball with 26-40 round holes, over a net. It is played on a badminton court, and a net and rules are somewhat similar to tennis. The game, one of the fastest growing sports in the country, has recently undergone some rule changes.

Even though Heurtin took on the responsibility of organizing the players, collecting dues, keeping the database, in 2019 she asked the club's board members to take over the operations of the club. As she was about to celebrate 80th birthday, she said she wanted to play, teach and continue serving as a USA Pickleball Ambassador.

Board members are President Dan Heath, Vice President Randy Ritchie, Treasurer David Parker, Richard Stalder, Sue Lockwood and Heurtin. The club has members from West and East Feliciana, Pointe Coupee and East Baton Rouge parishes. In 2020, when David Parker was serving as president, he took strides in getting the club declared a nonprofit organization. Then, the coronavirus hit, and the club ceased to sanction any play at the park. Play did eventually continue, with outdoor games and social distancing.

The West Feliciana Pickleball Club is hoping to see a growth in the club when it begins its Beginners Academy to teach the sport. With only word-of-mouth the program also has a waiting list of more than 10 interested in the sport. 

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The majority of the club members are recreational players, with some 10 members who regularly play in tournaments within the state as well as in Texas, Mississippi and Alabama. In 2020, Parker and Pickleball Ambassador Howard Ward, of Watson, planned an indoor tournament for West Feliciana gyms, but COVID-19 canceled those plans.

Plans are in the works for a June tournament at West Feliciana Parish schools.

Heath has been in several recent meetings with Parks Director Jason Kinchen to discuss the future of pickleball at the sports park. Expansion of courts and a desire to play outside as long a the coronavirus have been top issues for the talks.

Throughout the country, pickleball is popular at YMCAs and other recreational programs. The Americana YMCA In Zachary recently hired Chase Rigdon, a professional pickleball player, to lead its tennis program. Ridgdon recently taught a clinic on doubles pickleball strategy at the sports park.

The club plans to host a pickleball clinic each quarter.

For information on pickleball events at the sports park, visit www.wfprec.com.