In case you missed it, the finals of the men's and mixed doubles pickleball tournaments were held Monday at the Bill Heddles Recreation Center. Corey Elliott and Mike Watkins won the men's doubles league title, while Betty Garrett claimed the women's league title and Judy Fairchild was runner-up.
Fairchild and partner Brad Kolman defeated Corey Elliot and Michelle Clubb in a best-of-three series in mixed doubles, and faced Rich and Betty Garrett Monday afternoon for the title. Final results of that match were unavailable at press time.
"What is pickleball?" you ask. I asked the same question. Here's what I discovered: Pickleball players love the sport.
Pickleball, a cross between badminton and table tennis, remains somewhat obscure, but it's hardly a newcomer. The sport was invented on Bainbridge Island, Wash., in 1965. Then Congressman Joel Pritchard and wife Joan were hosting friends for a game of badminton, but had misplaced the shuttlecock. So they improvised with a whiffle ball.
They had a blast.
The name came from the "pickle boat" in crew, "where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats." Players reminded Joan Pritchard of those poor leftover crew members, according to worldpickleball.com.
The Pritchards designed the court using the same dimensions as a badminton court but with a different layout, wrote the rules of the game, and designed a paddle. The sport's popularity continued to grow, albeit slowly.
According to the USA Pickleball Association, Pritchard built the first permanent pickleball court in his yard in 1967. In 1972, he formed a corporation to "protect the creation" of his sport. The first official tournament was held in 1976, and by 1990 pickleball had reached all 50 states.
Now it's reached western Colorado. In addition to league pickleball, Heddles hosted the last of a series of four tournaments in May. Grand Junction, Glenwood Springs and Montrose also hosted tournaments. People came from as far as Denver and Durango, said player Thomas Smith of Delta. Smith, an amputee, started playing about 14 months ago when Heddles fitness coordinator Gary West introduced the sport to the center. He liked it so much that he held a "Pickleball 101" workshop last fall.
"I call this 'micro-tennis,'" said Smith. "It makes more sense to people than 'pickleball.'"
Smith, 63, will also compete in the Western Colorado Senior Games in Grand Junction this Aug. 26-31. "It's high-level competition," said Smith, who will compete in both men's and mixed doubles. Tournaments will be held at Pineridge Park, where the club's courts are lined for pickleball.
Pickleball is spreading to recreation centers and schools across the country. It's gaining popularity very quickly, said Smith. At the upcoming 2013 Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah, registration is limited to the first 500 entries.
It's getting popular because it's a sport anyone can enjoy, said Smith. He not only loves the sport, he credits it for changing his life. The former director of The Blue Sage Center for the Arts in Paonia and a volunteer KVNF disc jockey, Smith lost his leg just below the knee due to complications from diabetes. He was unaware he was a diabetic, and didn't feel a small cut on his left foot. Infection set in and Smith, a veteran, checked into the Grand Junction VA Medical Center. There, he learned that, without treatment, he had about a week to live.
Now you might say he lives for the sport. Including skiing, kayaking, swimming, hiking and the other activities he's involved in, Smith said pickleball is "The best. I don't want anything to interfere with this."
But don't think this game, considered a low-impact sport, is just for seniors and the disabled. It can be as competitive as the individual. John and Judy McCoy of Delta played in the summer league. John also plays racquetball. "You have to hit it a lot harder than it looks," said John of the whiffle ball. And the ball can take off in any direction, or, with a spin, can bounce backwards. All of which makes it very challenging.
"It's good for young and old alike," he added. The doubles format reduces the amount of area covered by each player, "which makes it so anyone can play."
Heddles recently offered the game for free to kids ages 5-18, "To get them interested in something different," said Heddles sports coordinator, Whitnee Lear, who filled in for Smith's partner, Paul Larmer, in league semifinals play. Turnout was good, said Lear. There is enough interest in league play that Heddles will offer it again. And league play is popular enough in the area that Montrose Recreation District will offer league competition this fall and Heddles will offer indoors league games this winter.
Rick Marion is no less enthusiastic about the game. Marion, of Delta, said his life was on a downward spiral after he broke his back in a fall from a roof 10 and a half years ago and became a paraplegic. Marion, whose story was featured in a DCI Back Page on June 20, 2012, said his life turned around dramatically after he joined Bill Heddles. One of the more serious players, he will also compete at the Senior Games in August, and has other tournaments on his radar.
"I never really got into tennis, other than buying a cheap Walmart racquet," said Marion, who moves about the court with surprising speed. The court's so much bigger... This," he said of pickleball, "is more my style. I can cover my 10 feet pretty good."
Marion also plays table tennis, and the two are mutually beneficial. From chair level, he can put a hard-to-return ping-pong-like spin serve just over the net. He also recently replaced his standard wheelchair with a chair designed for basketball. While it's wider, "It's much quicker than what I had before," said Marion.
Marion believes he may be the only wheelchair player on the Western Slope. If so, he won't be for long. He has been invited to join other wheelchair players in Arvada, and he's met a player with ties to Craig Hospital, which specializes in spinal cord injuries.
Smith imagines an all-day celebration of pickleball. The "Pickle Ball" would include an invitational tournament, workshops and freestyle play followed by an evening of dancing, perhaps swing dancing, which he said he's enjoying more these days, thanks to pickleball.
While the sport is growing, there are few courts built specifically for pickleball. The North Fork Pool Parks & Recreation District is considering a court on the existing basketball court located next to the new tennis courts at Apple Valley Park in Paonia. A group of citizens, including Smith, came before the NFPRD last spring to request that pickleball lines be added to the courts.
There was some resistance to the idea from tennis players, said Smith. They don't want it interfering with their game, and that is understandable. But proponents argue that tennis players don't yet understand the game and how many people can benefit from it. Once they do, proponents believe they'll support it, and probably want to play.
In fact, the two sports can, and already do, live in harmony. "You have portable nets, so it doesn't interfere with the tennis aspect of the game," said Smith. "And the lines are obviously different. These lines shouldn't interfere with tennis players.
"If it got really popular in Paonia, I'm sure that (NFPPR) would consider painting extra lines on those new tennis courts. It makes the court dual-purpose, and what you end up with is eight people playing on the courts. That's a good use of the space."
Smith realizes that the sport needs to become more mainstream before it will be accepted as a legitimate sport. But, he added, "That's already happening."blog comments powered by Disqus