Editor’s Note: This preview story from August was updated in November when The Center opened.
Edmonton volleyball players have a brand-new, dedicated building in which to bump, set and spike inside — something one of the city’s biggest recreational leagues says has been needed for a long time.
The Edmonton Volleyball Pickleball Center (EVPC) — known as “The Centre” or “EVPCenter” — is a duo-sport facility, able to accommodate either 17 pickleball courts or 11 volleyball courts.
The 49,000 square-foot facility is located inside a warehouse at 9455 45th Ave NW, just off Whitemud Drive, between 91 and 99 streets in south Edmonton. There’s change rooms, a pro shop, and 46,000 square feet of maple flooring to play sports on.
“This floor is good on your body. It’s good on your knees,” said David Jones, the patriarch of the family who is building the facility.
“You can play multiple sports on it: you can play badminton, you can play volleyball, basketball, etc. We’ve really taken the time to do some of our research — look at what’s best for the sport of pickleball as well as volleyball.”
The family is well-positioned to have an opinion on Edmonton’s volleyball scene.
“We love volleyball. We’re a volleyball family,” Jones said of himself, his wife Brenda, and children Alyssa and Christopher. All four played for the University of Alberta Golden Bears and Pandas athletic teams, and Jones said his son-in-law played for Mount Royal in Calgary as well.
And at first, volleyball was the only sport they were looking at.
“Edmonton’s always needed another place for volleyball, for kids and adults to play,” Jones said.
“So over a year ago, we sat down, we talked about this and said, ‘You know, this would be really neat if we looked into this. What would it be like if we could actually put our minds together and see if there’s a facility that we could lease and we could put a volleyball court — maybe one, maybe two volleyball courts?'”
Jones said pickleball came into the picture when he and his wife took up the sport.
“We can’t move anymore — as adults, I mean, my knees are shot — so we started to play pickleball and we realized, ‘You know, maybe we could do both: pickleball and volleyball.'”
He said they quickly discovered a passionate pickleball community in Edmonton. Pickleball — which is a combination of tennis, badminton and ping-pong — has grown in popularity and a recent study suggests the game has roughly 75,000 players across Canada.
The game is played with a plastic wiffle ball and a paddle. Outdoors, pickleball is played on a tennis court using in an area the size of a badminton court. Indoors, players use the court itself.
“In fact, some of the friends that we have now are so into the pickleball that they’re not playing golf anymore. They’re not playing tennis. They figure that, you know what, we can play pickleball outside as well as indoors.
“So what we did was we came up with a plan and started looking at facilities and here we are.”
The EVPCenter has partnered with the Edmonton Sport and Social Club (ESSC). The recreational adult sports organization runs about 20 different sports leagues, but says indoor volleyball is its largest gym sport. Each team has at least six players, plus substitutes or extras in case of absences and injuries.
“Typically, we average 350 indoor volleyball teams in our largest season, which translates to around 2,800 indoor volleyball players in one season,” marketing manager Caitlin Richler said, adding the fall season is typically the busiest.
“That said, this winter 2020 — January to March — we had a record-high 394 indoor volleyball teams playing with us before we shut our leagues down due to COVID-19.”
ESSC primarily uses City of Edmonton rec centres and school gyms to accommodate all its teams. Richler said it uses as many as 60 buildings a season and sometimes upwards of 20 different facilities in one night.
“We have a lot of demand for volleyball in Edmonton that is difficult to fulfill each season — there are only so many high schools in Edmonton for us to rent!”
ESSC hopes to be the primary renter of the EVPCenter, and has even created a dedicated premium league that will play all its games at the south Edmonton facility.
“It’s such a great and needed thing for Edmonton,” Richler said.
“There is huge demand for the sport and not a lot of access, especially at the recreational level.”
ESSC also hopes to hold tournaments at EVPCenter, but said that won’t happen until Alberta enters Stage 3 of its relaunch. The facility can accommodate about 400 people and Jones said all COVID-19 public safety rules will be followed.
“We want to make sure we put people in cohorts and so we minimize any type of spread,” Jones said.
Jones coached volleyball and basketball for more than three decades while teaching for Edmonton Public Schools. He was the principal at Harry Ainlay High School for eight years and more recently, the director of Metro Continuing Education — but he stepped down in August.
“It’s retirement time. And now my family, we’ve all decided that this is something that we’re going to do,” Jones said, explaining the EVPCenter will be run by his children and their spouses, and along with his wife, all six of them are equal owners in the facility.
He said the facility isn’t just for adults.
“My kids are really dedicated to teaching young kids. Not only —of course — volleyball, but also pickleball as well.”
Pickleball was invented in 1960 in Seattle. The sport was named after the inventor’s dog: a cocker spaniel named Pickle who would continuously steal the game ball, according to the Pickleball Canada Organization.
Pickleball has gained popularity among the aging baby boomer generation.
“There’s been lots of articles and lots of information out there, but we still get phone calls around. ‘So what is pickleball about? Can I play it? How can I play it?’ And it’s a very safe, very energetic and really a fun sport,” Jones explained.
“We’re finding it’s a culture, too, by the way,” he said. “People just don’t come, play and leave. They come, they play, they get to meet people and they also get to socialize with people.”