April is National Pickleball Month.And, in Oakland, there is no greater advocate for pickleball than Darlene Vendegna. Vendegna first discovered the sport in 2014 when she was searching for a new activity to help her stay active and healthy.
After trying pickleball for the first time, she quickly fell in love with the game and began playing regularly.
Vendegna believes that pickleball is a sport for everyone, regardless of age or skill level. She loves the social aspect of the game and has worked hard to spread the word about pickleball and its many benefits.
Most of the East Bay pickleball players who started in the past few years were introduced to the sport by Vendegna. She was also designated the official pickleball ambassador for Oakland by the USA Pickleball Association.
Despite being retired from her job as an accountant, Vendegna has found a new career in pickleball. Although she does not receive payment for her duties as an ambassador, she earns income by offering private lessons to players.
Last month, Vendegna’s efforts to promote pickleball were rewarded with an induction into the Alameda County Women’s Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame committee received over 20 submissions from current and former pickleball players who Vendegna coached or organized. Her nomination read, “Vendegna’s sports leadership has provided mental, emotional, and physical support to countless residents of Alameda County and beyond.”
Part of Vendegna’s mission is advocating for more courts to play on, both indoor and outdoor. She believes this is necessary to keep members of the growing pickleball community engaged.
The demand for pickleball courts in Oakland and the East Bay is not unique. The sport has grown rapidly across the United States, particularly among older adults. Pickleball is accessible, relatively low-impact, and can be played indoors or outdoors.
However, the growth of pickleball has outpaced the construction of new courts, leading to overcrowding and long wait times at many existing courts. Although private clubs in the East Bay are slowly adding lines to make their tennis courts pickleball-friendly, no developer has come in to open a dedicated pickleball club.
ICYMI: Pickleball 🏓 evangelist Darlene “Dar” Vendegna estimates she’s taught more than 2,500 people to play the sport in Oakland, Berkeley and across the East Bay.— Katie Lauer (@_katielauer) March 27, 2023
Here's why she was inducted into the Alameda County Women’s Hall of Fame last week:https://t.co/zPMHJuxJky
While the city is aware of the need for more courts, Vendegna acknowledges that they have other priorities to consider. Speaking to The Oaklandside, Vendegna said, “The city is aware of the need, but they have a lot of other stuff to worry about. She added, “There are plenty of under-utilized courts,”referring to tennis courts that could double as pickleball courts.
Despite the challenges, she remains passionate about the sport and is determined to continue advocating for more pickleball courts in the East Bay.
During her interview with Alix Wall, Vendegna also said, “The thing about it is, you don’t need a lot of space. Whenever I see an empty lot or rooftop, I think, ‘You could put some pickleball courts there.’”
We’ve no doubt that Darlene Vendegna will continue to inspire new pickleball players, and lobby for increased access to pickleball courts in the East Bay.
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