For members of the MLK Pickleball Players Club, the rules are simple – have fun and leave politics at the door.
On weekday mornings between 8 and 10:30 a.m., more than two dozen players drop by the Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Center gym. They set up the nets and take their marks in the frame of the game that has been painted on the floor.
According to City of Gainesville Facilities Manager Dwight Jackson, pickleball planted roots at the MLK center in 2017. Since then, the sport has been free to play at city facilities and has grown from a pilot program to a passion for hundreds of players each day not only at the MLK location but also at Northside Park, Albert “Ray” Massey (Westside) Park, T.B. McPherson Park and soon Tom Petty Park.
There are now four 20-by-44-foot dedicated courts open daily at the Northside Park. The City marks the playing field on tennis courts at its other locations.
The sport mirrors ping pong or tennis. There are rules about ball bouncing and where and how to serve. The rules according to the 2022 USA Pickleball Rulebook include details on serving, scoring and how to play doubles or singles.
Ask players what they like most about the game and, other than it being easy to learn and fun to play, they say it’s the people they meet that keeps them coming back.
MLK Pickleball Players Club leader Shirley Peoples said she is blessed to get to play the sport on weekday mornings at MLK.
“From the time you get together, you have fun, build fellowship and friendship,” she said.
“We want people to know when they come, we leave racism and politics out.”
Starting in 2020 and throughout the pandemic, Peoples and the other players started a collection once a month to give back to the community.
She said the group plays for free at the City facility and thought creating a fund to designate to a charity or cause would further the club’s purpose.
“There’s more that God wanted us to do,” she said.
The MLK Pickleball Players Club donates several hundred dollars a month to causes such as Alachua County Animal Resources & Care, the St. Francis House, scholarships for students, players with medical emergencies, and sometimes food baskets or gift baskets.
In March, the club worked with Blackadder Brewing Company to raise an extra $400 to add to their player donations of $200. The microbrewery hosted a bingo event and donated proceeds to the club.
From that effort, the club gave funds to a youth baseball team in Hawthorne, they donated pickleballs and paddles to children in Pine Ridge Apartments to get them involved in the sport, and they gifted City of Gainesville MLK center employee Ken Ross a fruit basket, balloons and a gift card to send him off to retirement after 33 years.
“They’re the first ones we see when we come in the door,” Peoples said about how staff members such as Ross have become part of what makes playing pickleball special.
As the sport continued to grow, the City added more places to play, Jackson said. Even he got into playing and admits it is still a workout.
“People of all ages can play,” he said about the game and added that the seniors he has played against are well-practiced. “I played football at the University of Florida but when I first started, they beat me for months before I started winning.”
Peoples said the group likes to choose a variety of causes to donate to.
In January, they contributed funds to the Lanier Dog Biscuit Kitchen, a small business for public school students at the Sidney Lanier Center.
And in February they joined forces with Miriam’s Basket, Inc., a non-profit that helps children removed from homes due to critical situations.
For April, Peoples said she heard about two girls needing clothes and is planning on helping them out.
Individuals or organizations interested in adding to the cause can reach Peoples via call or text at 352-317-7352.
Interested in playing pickleball? Here’s a list of locations in the City and Alachua County:
Martin Luther King, Jr. Multipurpose Center (MLK)
1028 NE 14th St., Gainesville, FL 32601 (352) 334-5053
Four indoor courts on basketball courts
Regular Play, All Levels, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.to 10:30 a.m.
5751 NW 34th St., Gainesville, FL 32601
Four dedicated, lighted courts.
Open to public, All Levels, 8 a.m.to 11:30 p.m. Seven days a week
Beginner group plays M-W-F 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Friday evening group plays (mixed levels) 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Saturday group plays (mixed levels) 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Albert “Ray” Massey (Westside) Park
Joyce Oransky Tennis Center (352) 559-8860
1004 NW 34th St., Gainesville, FL 32605
Three outdoor courts on east side of the tennis center outside the fence. It’s a shared space, so please be respectful. Need to bring your own nets.
Hal Brady Recreational Sports Complex
14300 NW 146th Terrace, Alachua, FL 32615
Six outdoor courts on basketball courts
Regular Play, All Levels, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Evening play on Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Jonesville Tennis Center
14080 NW 32nd Ave, Gainesville, FL 32606
Three outdoor courts on basketball courts
Regular Play, All Levels, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Kanapaha Veterans Memorial Park
7400 SW 41st Place, Gainesville, FL 32608
Five dedicated courts with portable nets locked in storage (call Mary Rossow for combination 352-682-8073)
Courts available Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to Noon
Regular Play, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.