One of the fastest growing sports in America, and the one with arguably the silliest name, has finally arrived in the North Fork area.
Early last week, the North Fork Pool, Parks & Recreation District applied pickleball lines to the surface of Apple Valley tennis courts. Since a pickleball court is roughly half the size of a tennis court, there are now eight public pickleball courts open to the public.
"These courts are great," said Steve Gulick, a regular pickleball player who was among the first to play on the new courts.
When the state-of-the-art courts at Apple Valley were constructed in 2013, pickleball players Thomas Smith and Rand Kokernot approached the NFPPR board for permission to add pickleball lines. They were denied, and were told the tennis community isn't in favor of it.
The sport wasn't as well-known or understood back then, said Smith. "This validates the sport in Paonia."
The creation of pickleball dates back to the mid 1960s and is credited to the late Congressman Joel Pritchard from Washington state, and a businessman named Bill Bell. It contains elements of tennis, Badminton and ping pong. The sport's popularity on the Western Slope has grown dramatically in the last few years. The Bill Heddles Recreation Center in Delta, where Smith has taught classes, has eight outdoor and three indoor courts, Montrose boasts 13 courts, and Cedaredge has four.
In 2014, the city of Grand Junction renovated Lincoln Park and opened it as the Lincoln Park Tennis and Pickleball Complex. Pickleball courts were also created at the Pineridge Park courts on the Redlands, where beginners and intermediates can compete. The city also now offers pickleball tournaments, and it is included in the Western Colorado Senior Games.
NFPPR recognized a need in the community for courts, and in 2014 allowed the group to create a court at the Paonia Skate Park on Third Street. A core group of players meets there weekly when weather permits, and when they're not traveling to tournaments, which are held throughout western Colorado. When weather isn't favorable, they play inside the Ellen Hansen Smith Teen Center when it's available.
NFPPR executive director Lenore Cambria understands the sport's growing popularity, and offered to have the lines applied to the courts after asking Smith what it would take to bring tournaments to the area. She is also hoping to start playing the sport.
Due to its low impact, seniors and the disabled are flocking to the game. "As a recreation district we need to provide as many opportunities as we can to our aging population," said Cambria. "And pickleball is the fastest growing sport among that population."
While it's popular with seniors, younger generations are also catching on, said Smith.
Cambria sees no problem in tennis and pickleball existing on the same surface, which is now quite common. The lines are a different color than the tennis lines, and high school coach Brian Benson, whom Cambria said was in favor of the idea, said his players have had no problem adapting to them. With the NFPPR committed to local high school teams, they will be given first priority.
For as long as nice weather holds out, pickleball players will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at Apple Valley Park. For potential players wanting to give the game a try, no equipment is necessary, said Smith. The group is hoping to form a club in the near future, offer lessons for beginners, and begin hosting tournaments next year.