A fast-growing sport combining elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, pickleball has swept across America and made its way to south metro Denver.
South Suburban Parks and Recreation embraced the trend last November at its Sheridan center and expanded it to the Lone Tree location last month. The Buck and Goodson recreation centers, in Littleton and Centennial respectively, are also exploring adding the hybrid sport, if enough interest is expressed.
While the game is new to many, its roots date back decades.
Named after founder Joel Pritchard's dog Pickles, the game began on Bainbridge Island, Wash., in 1965 when Pritchard and Bill Bell misplaced the shuttlecock to their badminton set and had to improvise a new form of entertainment using the pooch's perforated plastic ball.
Pickleball is most commonly a doubles sport, played on a court similar to tennis but with one-third the area to cover, and even smaller when played as singles. Players wield wooden or composite paddles, just shorter than a tennis racket, as they swing with precision at a wiffle-like ball and shuffle in all directions across the court.
Don't be fooled by the cutesy name and adorable story. Though there may not be much room to run about and the lighter ball generally flies with less fervor than in tennis, the game holds real excitement for those who play it. According to the USA Pickleball Association, there are more than 100,000 active players in America. In especially competitive pickleball areas, a special court on one's property is very common — akin to a basketball hoop in the driveway.
Attendance at Sheridan's program has been increasing and is becoming more consistent since its opening, according to facility supervisor Eddie Kanoza. There are no lessons offered, but a few regulars, including Kanoza, are available to help beginners at the drop-in gym time from 10 a.m. to noon on Mondays and Wednesdays.
The Lone Tree Recreation Center runs a similar operation from 3 to 6 p.m. on Sundays and 1 to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Four of the center's pickleball connoisseurs are BJ Pell, Tad Deutsch and Darryl and Ann Shaw. They've taken it upon themselves to manage the advancement of the program and help newcomers get involved.
“We're just trying to bring anybody new in who wants to come and we start teaching them some stuff. We're not real teachers but we've played. Hopefully we can bring them to the next level,” Pell said.
Fortunately for the amateur coaches, pickleball proves to be a pretty simple sport to learn with the right experience.
“It seems like anyone with a racquetball or any kind of paddle-sport background catches on pretty fast,” Darryl Shaw said.
According to Pell, the Lone Tree location attracts many ex-tennis players who are looking for another way to stay active within their previously acquired skill sets.
The Shaws, Pell and Deutsch are also involved with the well-established “Parker Picklers” of the Parker community, and hope to use the connection in bringing Lone Tree up to a similar level of play and growth. Outdoor courts with an earlier time slot for playing, as well as upcoming clinics to enhance skills, are some of the features players like Darryl Shaw would prefer.
The Lone Tree program is still quite fresh, so adjustments are being considered. According to Deutsch, the possibility of outdoor courts has been discussed, and with that change an earlier time frame could be added to account for the heat. Cost is a factor, however. The smaller area of a pickleball surface opposed to a tennis court is more efficient, but being outdoors still renders the space useless through Colorado's long and unpredictable winters.
Regarding the implementation of clinics and coaching in the area, there is a chance some experienced players from surrounding areas would be available to help.
“We've got some people who have taught over in Parker and Aurora that may come over and do some clinics. We just need to get a gauge of how many people would be interested to have somebody come and teach some skills,” Pell said.