Pickleball — it’s a word heard more and more at outdoor tennis courts and recreation centers around the country. Often, the name intrigues, drawing in curious outsiders who play, get hooked and bring the game to their friends and communities.
This is what happened in Summit County, as visitors brought the pastime along on their vacation and locals brought it back from their out-of-state trips. The sport started gaining popularity in Summit County about three years ago. Since then, the numbers of players has swelled, leading to the creation of the official Summit County Pickleball Club this summer. The club, which costs $10 to join, currently has 123 members, though organizers estimate there are many more who play.
“It just grew and grew every year,” said Sandy Reetz, club member and ambassador to the USA Pickleball Association, which is the national chapter.
Pickleball can be played inside or outside and requires a net, paddles and a hollow ball, similar to a Whiffle ball. It’s often played on tennis courts, although the inbounds areas are smaller and narrower than tennis boundaries. The courts at the Dillon Town Park and at Pioneer Park in Frisco now have painted pickleball lines. The paddle used to hit the ball looks like an enlarged, square-ish ping pong paddle, and is shorter than a tennis or badminton racket. Rules are similar to tennis or badminton and can be found online at the USA Pickleball Association website or quickly explained by nearby pickleball enthusiasts.
Word of mouth is one way that knowledge of the sport spreads so quickly, and how many of its enthusiasts learned to play. Anyone stopping by the courts when pickleball players are present, particularly those in the club, can easily pick up a loaner paddle and get a quick lesson.
“Every day we play, someone wants to know what pickleball is and how to play,” said Summit County Pickleball club president Bill Barbuto. “Someone’s always there if you want to learn. We always have paddles for loan.”
One thing that draws many people to pickleball is the ease in which it can be learned and then played, Barbuto said. It’s easy for those who have played tennis and badminton, as well as those who have never held a racket before.
“You can learn pickleball at a level that’s worth playing in a few weeks,” said club member Roger Kendall.
The easy level of play is what attracts many seniors to the sport, particularly those who find tennis too high-impact and physically punishing to continue. That doesn’t mean it’s just for the older generations, however, as pickleball has been gaining popularity among school-age children and young adults as well. At the pickleball tournament in Dillon yesterday, age of players varied, from 88 years old to people in their 30s and 40s.
“It’s a very social game and any size, shape, age (or) skill level can play it,” Reetz said.
Veronica Rivera lives in Denver and travels around to various pickleball games and tournaments. She just got involved with the sport last fall and already she’s hooked.
“It can be as high intensity or low intensity as you want,” she said, adding that her nine-year-old daughter often plays against adults. “It just spreads like wildfire.”
Barbara Johnson from Dillon is 79 years old and an avid pickleball player. She picked it up about two years ago after hearing about it from Reetz. Now she and her husband play at least four times a week.
“It’s a wonderful game,” she said. “To see this many people out getting exercise and having a good time is fantastic.”
The club expects its membership to grow and more people learn about the sport. Organizers are happy to teach others and bring more players into the fold. The next event for the club is a brunch at Town Park in Dillon on Sept. 1 starting at 8 a.m. Anyone interested in learning more about pickleball is welcome to drop by and give it a try.
“Come out and we’ll show you how it works,” Barbuto said.