Paddling a new passion: Pickleball!Jun 25, 2020 01:50PM ● By aaronreynolds
Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport for seniors, it's fun to play and easy to learn.
The courts were crowded even on a sweltering weekday morning in June. Players arrived and exchanged pleasantries (even a little playful banter) before they grabbed their paddles and took to a game of doubles.
Not even the heat nor the looming threat of COVID can keep these pickleball athletes from playing one of the fastest-growing sports among seniors. Many say they’re addicted—and complying with social distancing rules on the court is no issue.
THE OBSESSIONPickleball may have a funny name, but the sport is no joke. It offers the ideal combination of a low-impact physical exercise along with delivering the traditional joys that come with competition, such as establishing personal challenges and making new friends.
The sport incorporates elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis into one easy-to-comprehend racket/paddle game. It’s best to play in pairs, though a singles version also exists. Players use a paddle to strike a ball that has some similarities to a Wiffle ball over a net.
“Pickleball is easy to learn, does not require a high level of athleticism or strenuous physical effort, is a very social game and a ton of fun,” said Jeffrey Smith, president of the Western Slope Pickleball Club (WSPC).
Smith relocated to the Grand Valley from Portland a little over two years ago. At the time, he had recently picked up the sport after years of playing tennis and competitive swimming. Numerous surgeries on his rotator cuff made it clear that tennis was no longer a viable option. Pickleball represented a healthy alternative.
He took over WSPC last summer, though the organization is far from new. The club dates back to 2009, and over the past decade, it’s witnessed a tidal wave of involvement. The initial interest of 25 players has increased to 700 current participants in the Grand Valley, in addition to those coming from Delta, Montrose, Olathe and Eckert.
“We have members from all around...and a lot of activities,” said George Gerson, WSPC membership and communications director. “We ended last year with 381 members, and more than 50 were outside of Mesa County.”
Over the years, WSPC has worked closely with Grand Junction Parks and Recreation to grow infrastructure and interest related to the sport. Smith maintains that what has helped spur the popularity of pickleball—not only on the Western Slope but also nationwide—is how quickly most beginners pick up the game compared to other competitive sports.
Despite being the president of the WSPC, Smith is like many other players in that he’s played pickleball for less than five years—a reminder to newbies that many people who play regularly are relatively new to the sport as well.
“A majority of our club members, as well as nonmembers, are beginner players. So naturally, beginners are welcomed with open arms, and shouldn’t be intimidated because they are in good company,” Smith said.
TRY IT OUTSmith wants to quash those fears that one might feel intimidated or self-conscious about looking out of place trying something new, especially in a competitive atmosphere. The average age of a WSPC club member is 66.
Tracy Dvorak-Marshall, another club member, also found pickleball easy to pick up.
“Pickleball is notable for being a very social sport,” Dvorak-Marshall added. “For many seniors, I believe the social piece is very important and pickleball satisfies that need.”
Smith and Dvorak-Marshall agree that you can show up and always find someone willing to play with you. So much so, there’s a current shortage of courts to meet its demand.
While the courts at Lincoln Park and Pineridge Park (Redlands) serve an outdoor need, Lincoln Park Barn, Fruita Community Center and Palisade Recreation Center provide an indoor venue during the winter months. However, there is still a push to incorporate more facilities in the future.
The same can be said for Delta. With no official pickleball courts, athletes will play in Grand Junction or adapt outdoor tennis courts at Bill Heddles Recreation Center.
“Those courts have remained open for public use at [the players’] own discretion,” said Tyler Schumacher, assistant sports coordinator for the City of Delta. “We’ve been seeing small groups of pickleballers playing in the mornings for the last few weeks.”
Although pickleball isn’t technically one of the City’s programs, players can contact Schumacher to schedule indoor playing times.
“If you want to find a fun way to enjoy the great outdoors, come on out and try the game. You may find a new passion, and I guarantee you will make some new friends,” said Smith.
PLAYING UNDER COVID-19Despite players eager to return to their pickleball routine, the courts at Lincoln Park still aren’t as busy as usual. Even with more relaxed rules of play as Mesa County enters the final phase of its reopening plan, posted signs warn out-of-towners to stay away.
“Two people just showed up today from Montana and I told them to go home,” said George Gerson, WSPC membership and communications director. “We have a very low caseload [of infections] here, and we just had new cases—two of which were travel related.”
It may upset some people, but Gerson believes it’s the right thing to do for now.
“There are still people afraid to come out,” he added. “If COVID didn’t exist, you’d have a whole row of people waiting to play here.”
In Montrose, pickleball facilities at the Montrose Community Recreation Center opened June 2, but with restrictions.
“We are limited to 10 people in a group and must practice 6-feet social distancing,” said Cindy Marino, Montrose Recreation District’s activities coordinator.
NEW TO PICKLEBALL?
Both Grand Junction Parks and Recreation and Montrose Recreation District offer a beginner clinic that teaches new players the fundamentals and basic rules of the sport. Equipment is provided.
• To register for the next Grand Junction class, call 254-3866.
• To register for the next class in Montrose, call 249-7705.
• To coordinate playtimes in Delta, call 874-0923.
To join Western Slope Pickleball Club, visit www.westernslopepickleballclub.com.