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Paonia-style pickleball on display at Apple Valley Park

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Photo by Eric Goold Alan Jacobs (left) and Bill Compton reach for the ball during a recent pickleball game at Apple Valley Park. Pickleball is one of the fastest growing recreational sports in the country.

One of the fastest growing recreational sports in America is on display at Apple Valley Park.

About 10 to 12 Paonia residents play weekly pickleball games on the tennis courts at the park. Go to the park around 8 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and you'll be able to hear the distinctive smack of pickleballs being knocked around.

The North Fork Pool, Parks and Recreation District painted the courts at Apple Valley in the summer of 2014, allowing for dual use. Tennis lines are a bright white while pickleball courts are lined off in light grey.

"We have the best pickleball courts in Delta County," said Paonia resident and popular KVNF DJ Thomas Smith, who is the unofficial founder of the informal club that gets together for the competition and good times that pickleball provides.

The game, kind of a blend between tennis and ping pong, is gaining popularity throughout the nation but particularly in retirement communities. The game is not nearly as stressful on the joints and muscles as tennis is and the rules are easy enough that anyone can pick up the game quickly.

Even cub reporters. This author was welcomed into three or four contests and can assure readers that pickleball is not nearly as easy as it looks.

The human tendency to hit the ball as hard as you can every time does you no good in pickleball, which requires a finesse game more than a power game.

And even though the rules are easy to pick up, the veterans from Paonia don't make it easy on rookies.

In other words, I was on the losing end of every game I played. Sorry to my partners.

Games go to 7 or 11 points, depending on if people are waiting to play. Paddles resemble raquetball rackets in size but are made out of plastic or wood. The orange ball is made of hard plastic and has holes like a wiffle ball.

Smith said there are pickleball tournaments throughout the Western Slope, including Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, Delta and Montrose.

"We want to add Paonia to that list," Smith said, noting that Apple Valley has the requisite number of pickleball courts (eight) to be able to host a tournament.

Smith discovered pickleball at the Bill Heddles Recreation Center in Delta back in 2012. He was recovering from surgery that removed his lower left leg and found that pickleball was one of the activities he could pursue while learning to walk on his new prosthetic limb.

Love of the game inspired Smith to recruit players in Paonia. The group first played a winter in the Teen Center, then moved to the skate park. Then finally the pickleball games moved to Apple Valley, where players can enjoy a top-of-the-line playing surface and outstanding weather on a brilliant summer morning.

If you go out there, ask Smith to tell you the story of pickleball's origins. It's not a kosher tale but it's a dilly.

Photo by Eric Goold Thomas Smith (left) charges the net while Paul Larmer smashes home a volley in a pickleball game last Thursday at Apple Valley Park. Smith is the unofficial founder of the informal club that plays weekly pickleball games in Paonia.
Photo by Eric Goold Linda Hansen (left) returns a shot while Dave Sinks looks on. The pair are part of a core group of about 10 Paonia residents who go to Apple Valley Park and play pickleball.
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