This sport is the real dill

Pickleball offers more than recreation, socialization


James Pinkel, 69, of Centennial, plays pickleball three or four days a week against a variety of players at the Lone Tree Recreation Center.

“There are some who show up to really play the game,” Pinkel said. “Some people are here to say ‘hi’ and if they play a game and lose, no big deal. The sport is getting more competitive and we do have much younger people coming in that can just beat the pants off me.”

The sport with a curious name has exploded in popularity. In addition to be considered a fun, recreational game, pickleball has grown into a seriously competitive outlet for many. Today, the sport even has professional players.

“No question, there is competition — and at all ages,” said Don Siegel, director for two tournaments at the Apex Center in Arvada.

There has been a 650% increase in players over the past six years, according to the USA Pickleball Association. There were 3.1 million players in 2018, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.

Numerous tournaments are scheduled in Colorado this summer, including competitions in Englewood and Arvada.

Pickleball is particularly popular among seniors. The Sports and Fitness Industry Association reports that 43% of players are 65 years old or older.

The sport includes elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis. It’s played with paddles and a plastic ball with holes in it on a 20-foot by 44-foot badminton-size court. It can be played indoors or outdoors, doubles or singles.

Siegel believes pickleball gives former athletes another chance to compete later in life, but it is also drawing interest from younger generations.

“Commonly, people looked at it as a senior sport, but you are seeing some of the younger tennis players come over and literally change the sport.

“Anybody that is truly an ambassador for the sport is happy that the younger generation is acknowledging that this is a fast-paced, aggressive game. It’s like any sport, it can be played aggressively, and very competitively … We’ve got some really competitive 70 (year-old) plus players and others that are here to have a good time, smile and laugh. That’s one of the many beauties of the sport.”

Ryan Daberkow, an athletics coordinator for South Suburban Parks and Recreation District, said he wouldn’t necessarily label the sport as becoming more competitive.

“It’s just a growing sport in general,” said Daberkow. “People from all age groups are taking an interest in the sport. You get a mixture of skill levels.”

But Drew Wathey of the USA Pickleball Association says the competitive level has increased.

“As the popularity has increased, it attracts ex-tennis players,” said Wathey, who estimates there are now in the neighborhood of 125 professional players.

“The pro division is swelling. Prize money is increasing. Winners can win as much as $2,500 to $3,000. It reminds me of the old Virginia Slims tennis circuit, where they would play for peanuts. We are seeing 10- and 12-year-old kids in some of our tournaments and players in their 80s.”

Colorado has its share of elite pickleball players.

Scott Moore, of Colorado Springs, is the No.1 50-plus senior male player in the world and is a 12-time USAPA gold medalist.

Moore has mastered a sport in which placement and spin are more vital to success than power and speed.

Julie Quisenberry, 76, says the older generation enjoys the competition as much as younger players.

“It can get competitive,” said Quisenberry, who recently was playing at the Goodson Recreation Center in Centennial. “We like to keep score. We sort it out among ourselves. There are all kinds of players. One night I played against a 23-year-old kid.

“I like the socializing. You meet new people. I started playing five years ago for exercise but it was so much fun. I was teaching as a substitute but I quit to play pickleball.”

Littleton couple Patty Gallegos, 54, and Donnie Gallegos, 52, play singles, doubles and mixed doubles in many tournaments around the region.

Competition is one of the reasons.

“We started playing and got addicted to it,” Patty Gallegos said. “In the competitive world of pickleball, there is a whole community of pickleball players. You can play for fun or also get into the side of it that is very competitive.”


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