Pickle in the Peaks: Summit County locals thrilled with first-ever pickleball tournament, sport’s growth
SILVERTHORNE — While Julie Worthington and a collection of Summit County locals played pickleball at Silverthorne Recreation Center one morning this past winter, they noticed a young man in the bleachers patiently waiting to play basketball. After he watched the tennis-like paddle game for more than an hour, Worthington and company asked him if he’d like to join in.
He hasn’t stopped playing since.
“We were like, ‘Get out here, boy,’” Worthington said. “And he played, and he’s so good.”
Junior Serenil, 18, is a recent transplant to the area known for its active lifestyle. Serenil is a fan of soccer, and it’s pickleball’s similar finesse that made him fall in love with the game. He won a gold medal in his division at this past weekend’s first Pickle in the Peaks pickleball tournament at Rainbow Park in Silverthorne.
“I found a group there that made me feel comfortable,” the native Texan said. “I can converse and play a sport with them that I enjoy because pickleball has made my time here in Colorado pretty fun. I’m glad I moved here now because I found pickleball. It’s a blast to play.”
Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis as two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated polymer ball, similar to a Wiffle Ball, over a net. Think of it kind of as life-sized ping pong or a smaller, slower version of tennis played on a much smaller court. The sport, which was created in 1965 and is one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation, is known to be popular among aging athletes.
Here in Summit County, the vast majority of pickleball players are older, too, though this past weekend’s Pickle in the Peaks tournament attracted athletes of all ages and experience levels to Silverthorne for a tournament featuring 175 matches, more than 100 athletes and 60 teams.
Serenil and his father, “Senior,” won the men’s doubles 4.0 division at a tournament that featured round-robin play classified by skill level before the top four teams advanced to the medal rounds, where medalists were decided in a best-two-out-of-three playoff format.
Though the tournament attracted interest from athletes from outside the county, including the Front Range and Western Slope, a large portion of the tournament’s players were members of the Summit County Pickleball Association. The nonprofit association formed last year after a smaller group of locals played recreationally dating back several years. In just one year, Worthington, one of the association’s founders, said the association has grown to include more than 300 members. Worthington said about 100 of them are full-time residents of the county while the others have joined on vacation or while spending time at a part-time home.
“People all over the nation come for winter, summer — whatever,” Worthington said. “And they are playing pickleball like crazy in Arizona, Florida, or wherever they live.”
Open play for pickleball is from 8 a.m. to noon in Summit County
This past weekend, the association worked with the town of Silverthorne’s recreation department to line 10 pickleball courts on the tennis courts in Rainbow Park. The tournament was a large step up for Worthington and the association after locals previously organized smaller, unofficial tournaments with around 30 people. It was so large that Worthington wasn’t able to play herself, resorting to helping with tournament operations. She said she was elated at the turnout.
“This tournament completely exceeded our expectations as far as numbers and participation,” she said. “We reached that probably two weeks before the tournament was actually being held. We had people wanting to get in we had to turn down. We can definitely expand it, but it’s a lot of work.”
One of this year’s medalist was Joan Veazey, 75, a pickleballer 57 years Junior Steril’s senior. Veazey said she and her husband, Jerry, fell in love with the sport about five years ago. Since then, the Veazeys try to play five days a week. For Joan Veazey, it all led up to this past weekend’s tournament, where she and her playing partner, fellow Summit County local Wendy Tilden, won the women’s doubles 3.0 division.
Mixed doubles 3.0
Peter Welles, Pam Horstman
Mixed doubles 3.5
Bob Worthington, Annette Visser
Mixed doubles 4.0
Patty Pyle, Stan Johnson
Men’s doubles 3.0
Richard and Marty Stenzler
Men’s doubles 3.5
Eric Dargevics, Stan Johnson
Men’s doubles 4.0
Junior and Senior Serenil
Women’s doubles 3.0
Wendy Tilden and Joan Veazey
Women’s doubles 3.5
Margaret Ellison and Ann Johnson
Women’s doubles 4.0
Patti Pyle and Sandy Rice
After quitting tennis a quarter century ago due to its impact on her body, Veazey is happy she has found pickleball as it provides a similar camaraderie and community.
“Being good at pickleball doesn’t necessarily have to do with your ability,” she said. “It’s about going out and learning the game and you wanting to get better, you wanting to achieve better skills. And I think it helps — not only physically, but just the mental aspect of it too — it keeps you young, keeps you going, keeps you motivated, and I think that’s why a lot of us continue to play.”
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