Unusual sport booming in Grand Junction
Pickleball — the name says it all.
OK, it really doesn’t say much at all about the game.
But people love to play the unique game here in Grand Junction.
Weird name, popular game.
Jan Kerr was out at Lincoln Park playing tennis one day when she kept hearing a strange “clop, clop, clop.”
“I kept hearing this funny sound,” Kerr said between pickleball games at Lincoln Park last week. “I wondered what it was.”
She sauntered over to the fence and peeked through. There were miniature-looking tennis courts with players using tiny paddles and hitting what looked like a whiffle ball over a net.
Weird game, weird name.
She soon put her tennis racket down and picked up a pickleball paddle.
“I’ve been hooked ever since,” she said, smiling.
“It’s a real fast-paced sport and a reaction game,” she said. “A lot of people, like myself, go back and forth (between pickleball and tennis), but pickleball is addictive. I don’t know anyone who starts it and doesn’t get addicted to it.”
The sport is growing like crazy.
A pair of pickleball fanatics, who can be called gurus for their love and knowledge of the game, have been at the center of the game’s groundswell of popularity in Grand Junction.
George Gerson and Ken Hobbs started playing the game about six years ago. Hobbs discovered the game in Arizona, where he visited a couple of weeks a year.
“I just fell in love with it, but when I came back to Grand Junction there was nowhere to play,” he said.
And nobody to play.
A few players were interested, but soon it was just Hobbs and Gerson playing singles, popping that strange ball over that little net nearly every day, even through the winter.
Gerson’s love of the sport borders on obsessive. He seems to be as permanent a fixture at the Lincoln Park pickleball courts as the nets.
He’s part guru, full-time player and 100 percent ambassador for the sport. When he starts talking about the game, it’s nearly impossible to get him to stop, unless he gets pulled into a game.
“It’s growing here just like it is all over the country,” he said. “It’s the fastest growing sport in the country.”
He said 65 people in Grand Junction were introduced to the game and have become avid players since December. In recent clinics, more than 40 beginner and intermediate players turned out.
Gerson, 67, said most of the players are 60 to 70 years old.
“The popularity stems from the fact that it’s a sport that seniors can play,” he said. “It’s also an easy game to pick up. It’s a great sport for many people who otherwise wouldn’t be doing anything.”
Where did it come from?
The born-in-the-USA sport was created in a backyard in the Seattle area.
A bored family wanted to play badminton, but when the shuttlecock couldn’t be located, they improvised. They lowered the net, made paddles out of plywood and grabbed a whiffle ball.
Pickleball was born.
Weird game, very weird name.
The name’s creation has two rumored possibilities: Named after the family dog Pickles, or it came from the term “pickle boat,” referring to the last boat to return with its fish catch.
Whatever the case, the name stuck.
Gerson said the key to the sport gaining popularity in Grand Junction came from an avid tennis player.
“A very good tennis player came out to see what the game was all about, and he fell in love with it,” Gerson said.
He then recruited more tennis players to join him, and soon the seal was cracked on pickleball, and it started booming.
“That gave us a little recognition and showed it’s a game where good athletes can play, because pickleball sounds like a kid’s game,” Gerson said.
Hobbs, 75, said the name is indeed strange.
“It sounds funny, but once you play it, you find out it’s a great game,” he said.
Gerson admits the lower physical impact is a large part of the popularity for many. Players who gave up tennis or other racquet sports find the game to be fun and far less demanding.
“We have a lot of players who used to play tennis or racquetball, and many still do, but there are some who can no longer cover the court in tennis, and they find this game appealing,” Gerson said
At 82, Al Radford picked up pickleball two years ago.
“I play racquetball and wanted to try something different,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun and not too hard on your body.”
An intriguing game
Watching the game has an effect on people and makes them want to grab a paddle and jump into a game.
John Langford just finished a round of golf at Lincoln Park Golf Course when he and his wife heard the sound and couldn’t resist seeing what was going on.
“We’d see them over there and thought we’d check it out,” he said. “I didn’t have a clue what pickleball was.”
He does now, and he’s added pickleball to his recreational activities.
When Gerson and Hobbs started playing, a few others were interested, but they all drifted away, leaving the two pickleball gurus to play each other.
After the tennis player started telling his friends about pickleball, Gerson and Hobbs started seeing more competition than just each other.
Now, pickleball has gained momentum all over the Western Slope and the state.
“It’s like mushrooms, it’s popping up everywhere,” Hobbs said.
It’s not rare to see more than 20 players daily at the Lincoln Park courts. The gregarious laughs, grunts, groans and the occasional frustrated cuss word mingle with the strange “clop” of the ball striking the paddle.
Weird sound, strange name, unique game.
Soon, a slightly befuddled gentleman strolled over to the courts to see what all the fuss was about.
He watched, and soon Gerson spotted him.
“Do you want to play? Grab a paddle,” he said.
Always the pickleball ambassador.