Every Friday since February, a group of dedicated ping pong players have gathered in the one-room Castle Valley library. The library is easy to find—it’s right off the main road in the town, and shares space with the town building. The ping pong table, when it’s set up, takes up most of the space in the library, leaving just enough room for four players to play a game of doubles.
But the players never keep score. There are six regulars—Ruth Brown, Betty-Ann Curtis, Barbara McGann, Dennis Brown, Colleen Thompson, and Diane Ackerman—many overlap as members of the monthly Friday morning book club. When the time came for ping pong club on a Friday in late April, club members slowly filed in, discussing the month’s book club pick and garden happenings.
This is not a club for a ping pong extraordinaire, multiple members said; the club serves mainly as a way to build community and get steps in. Curtis wore a Fitbit, and remarked that she hits her daily step goal in only an hour of gameplay: most of the ping pong game involves chasing after and picking up missed balls off the ground (in the past, she’s cranked out 3,000 steps, equivalent to a mile and a half of walking).
None of the players are too competitive: they rejoice when a rally goes for more than ten or so returns. But Thompson “can get really serious about it,” Curtis said: “If I’m getting some good shots in, she suddenly turns it on—she’s competitive.”
But as for the rest of them? “I don’t think we get better as we keep playing,” Curtis said.
As the weather gets warmer, the club is planning to switch to pickleball. They’ll keep score for those games, just to keep things interesting.
“We’re gonna play for real with the pickleball,” McGann said. “But it’ll still be a non-competitive recreation league.”
What brings the club together—the socialization, and the laughter, members said—will remain even as they move outside. Before the COVID-19 pandemic paused the world in 2020, the library was Castle Valley’s main community center. In this place, residents of the 350-person community could gather to do activities together (it even served as a place to sit and drink coffee, waiting for people to come by to chat with). The library allowed book check-outs during the pandemic (though not in person), but the activities stopped completely. Ping pong club has only recently started up again.
Chelsea Jensen, the librarian at the Castle Valley library, said she hopes more people come to the library’s social events.
“We’re trying to get everybody back here,” she said. “But I think a lot of people are still hesitant to gather in small places.”
The library is planning to host more events outside this summer, Jensen said—outside the building, there’s a lovely courtyard with ample space and a playground. Jensen has only worked at the Castle Valley branch of the Grand County Public Libraries since December 2022, but she said she enjoys how tight-knit the community is: she knows most library patrons by name and sees them often. Plus, her toddler-aged son can come to work with her—most library patrons know him by name too, including the ping pong club.
Well, soon, the pickleball club. So why make the switch?
Being outside is a huge draw, club members said—plus, pickleball has a lot of hype right now. It’s one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S., especially with seniors (the library events draw mostly older patrons). They’ll keep the same schedule, playing for around an hour every Friday.
“What we lack in skill,” McGann said, “we make up for in energy and enthusiasm.”
You can keep up with happenings at the Castle Valley library at www.grandcountyutah.net/286/Library.