The Bitterroot Pickleball Club of Southwestern Montana
Pickleball courts are springing up in the Bitterroot country of southwest Montana like mushrooms after a forest fire. It’s mostly got to do with the incredible transformation of USAPA Ambassador Rick Trauth from an ordinary unassuming Bitterroot entrepreneur into a pickleball maniac who is as smooth-talking as the Music Man. In this case, the band didn’t get any uniforms. Uniforms don’t seem to be big among the pickleball crowd, it’s more of an individual expression type sport. But they did get nets, balls and some spanking new courts to play on.
If there’s one thing that pickleball players need, it’s other people to play pickleball with and a place to do it. Wondering how best to introduce his new passion to the Bitterroot community and being from the Stevensville, Trauth’s eyes fell upon Lewis and Clark Park, and what he saw were not some decrepit and little-used tennis courts with basketball goals at each end and cracks running through the asphalt like small canyons. No, he saw the future. He saw some resurfaced pickleball courts and set about making that vision a reality.
In 2018, with the approval and cooperation of the Town of Stevensville, the old tennis courts were resurfaced and painted, creating three pickleball courts and leaving the basketball goals up for those so inclined.
By paying a $25 annual membership fee ($40 per couple), a person can access the nets and balls stored at the park and play to their heart’s content.
Publicized training workshops were held and the response was astounding, according to Trauth. Adult Education classes were offered at the Stevensville school and 18 players were trained. The ten-week class met once a week.
Trauth also started offering pickleball lessons to small groups on a donation basis and helped raise $500 in two weeks for the local food bank.
So many people got interested that when Old Man Winter put an end to play at Lewis and Clark Park, the group moved indoors and set up a schedule of play at the Nazarene Church in Victor. Trauth said that 20 people at a time attended the sessions held on Saturday mornings and Monday evenings.
Then, in 2019, people in Hamilton began to express an interest. In the spring, Trauth and fellow pickle ballers met with the county commission and ended up leasing a building at the county fairgrounds large enough for five indoor courts.
“It’s been very well attended,” said Trauth, “from 20 to 50 people a day and growing.” There are two sessions, one from 12 to 3 p.m. and one from 6 to 9 p.m.
Trauth said what’s driving it all is that people love to be active and to be social. It is not a sport that requires extreme physical exertion. But it gets you moving and engaging with other people.
That was followed up by another outdoor venue opening up at a nearby county park location, and this time the county park board approached Trauth about making it happen. Twenty hours of volunteer work later, involving power washing old tennis courts and painting pickleball lines, and pickle ballers have a beautiful place to play.
Bitterroot players have had the opportunity to attend pickleball clinics by Rob Davidson, U.S. Open and USAPA Nationals Gold Medalist, and his wife Shonda, a 5.0 player, IPTPA teaching pro and U.S. Open and USAPA medalist herself, and a native of Hamilton.
In February 2019 before Montana started experiencing Covid-19, the Bitterroot Pickleball Club sponsored an indoor tournament with players guaranteed six matches. The unique trophies, sure to grace the winners’ trophy cases, were the creations of Trauth.