Pickleball gaining a rabid following in GJ

Vincent Sassin dives for the ball as his partner Ken Hobbs watches during a game of pickleball against Ben Beauregard and Nancy Friedman at the Linclom Park tennis courts. Pickleball is a miniature tennis game, played with paddles and a whiffle ball and the pickleball court fits into one side of a tennis court.

Alan and Nancy Friedman heard about Pickleball in Casa Grande, Ariz., where they spend the winter.

After one match, they were hooked. Now they’re trying to spread the word about the hybrid sport in Grand Junction.

Pickleball started in 1965 when Congressmen Bill Bell and Joel Pritchard and their families made up a game in their backyard near Seattle using some damaged badminton rackets and a perforated plastic ball a little bigger than a whiffle ball.

They replaced the badminton rackets with paddles and created rules, relying heavily on badminton. They named their discovery after the Pritchards’ family dog, Pickles, who would take the balls that came his way.

The game is played on a hard surface, usually tennis courts. The Pickleball court is 44 feet long and 20 feet wide with a 36-inch net across the court. It includes a 7-foot non-volley zone on each side of the net and service lines down the middle of the court like a service box in tennis.

Players are not permitted to stand in the non-volley zone unless the ball bounces. The rules prevent players from “smashing” a ball to prevent unfair advantages and for safety.

The game can be played in a singles or doubles format, indoors or outdoors.

The Friedmans, who moved to Grand Junction a few years ago when they retired, were invited to play with some friends in Arizona. The sport has blossomed among senior citizens in Casa Grande, they said.

“In Casa Grande, they took out two tennis courts and put in eight Pickleball courts (across the width of the tennis court),” Nancy Friedman said.

In March 2008, the Friedmans approached former Grand Junction Parks & Recreation Director Joe Stevens about the game.

In September, the city recreation department put on a clinic at the Bookcliff Activities Center with the help of the Friedmans. The event wasn’t as well received as they hoped, but the Friedmans weren’t giving up.

This summer, the city put a Pickleball court on a tennis court at Lincoln Park. The lines were originally taped to the court but when the Friedmans got to the court, the lines had been removed.

The next day, Parks Superintendent Mike Vendegna had the lines painted on the court.

The city purchased six Pickleball paddles and several Pickleball balls that can be checked out without charge at the Parks & Recreation office at Lincoln Park.

“They came out here (to the Lincoln Park courts) and played on a regular tennis net higher than a Pickleball net,” Grand Junction Recreation Superintendent Traci Wieland said. “We built the net (support) internally and ordered the net.”

The court was put up three weeks ago and players are starting to show up regularly. Last Friday, there were nine players, more than enough for two doubles matches.

The Friedmans have up to a dozen players in their group, including their Grand Junction neighbors Ben and Shirley Beauregard.

Elaine Lesley of Grand Junction tried the clinic last fall and comes out to play when she can.

“I saw something in the activity book last fall,” Lesley said. “I love it. I didn’t know Pickleball existed.”

Vincent Sassin of Grand Junction was playing tennis at Lincoln Park when Eldon and Ann Beard invited him to play Pickleball a couple of weeks ago.

“I fell in love with the game,” Sassin said. “It’s a lot of fun. I didn’t even know the sport existed.

I’m going to play Pickleball every day I can. This is a good group of people.”

Marianne North met the Friedmans in the Grand Junction Newcomers Club and was invited to play.

“I was looking for outdoor exercise,” North said. “I wanted something that would make me move, without running as fast as tennis. I like playing Ping-Pong in the winter, but I wanted something outside.

“It has a lot more social and aerobic benefits than walking. I had a partial knee replacement and really can’t run. I can play without running in this sport. The court is smaller, and with doubles, you don’t need to run at all.”

The Friedmans said there is usually someone playing every weekday morning except Thursday.

With the growing interest, plans are under way to set up a second court at Lincoln Park.

There were 1,426 USA Pickleball Association members as of April 26, 2009, an increase of 41.9 percent since the beginning of 2009.

The first Pickleball tournament took place in 1976 and the USA Pickleball Association was formed in 1984. For more on Pickleball, go to http://www.usapa.org.


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