COLUMBIA – The paddles resemble those used in ping-pong. The net is from badminton, but lowered from the regulation height of 60 inches to 36. Throw in a wiffle ball for good measure. This is Pickleball.
After watching the plastic balls whizzing back and forth last year at the Missouri State Senior Games, Ken Ash, executive director of the Show Me State Games, Dave Gill, the competition coordinator, and Russ Stott, the director of the senior state games, decided they had to include the sport in the annual event. Pickleball made its debut over the weekend.
The pace of the game is fast, just like the game’s growth around the country.
“Pickleball appeals to so many people because it allows anyone to play. No matter your age or skill level, you’ll have fun,” said Skip Deming, the USA Pickleball Association’s ambassador for Columbia.
The paddles used in pickleball are shorter and lighter than other racket sports like tennis and racquetball, but larger than ping-pong paddles. Courts are a third the size of a tennis court. The ball weighs less than other balls used in racket sports so when players make contact, less pressure is put on shoulder and elbow joints. The rule mandating underhand serves also cuts down on shoulder tension. All these rules allow anyone to participate, which was Joel Pritchard’s idea when creating the game.
According to the USA Pickleball Association's Web site, Pickleball traces its roots to Bainbridge Island, Wash., in 1965. Pritchard, a U.S. congressman, and Bill Bell, a businessman and friend, returned from a round of golf to Pritchard’s home to find his family spending another summer day indoors. Pritchard set out on a mission to find a game they could enjoy together as a family.
They had an old badminton court on the property, but they lacked rackets, so Pritchard improvised. He crafted his own wooden paddles, and they used an old plastic ball that was a toy of the family dog, Pickles.
Deming, 63, once an avid tennis player, tore his rotator cuff and was unable to serve overhand. Pickleball allows him to remain active and not strain his shoulder.
Pickleball draws Lyle Kern for the same reason. Tendonitis in his shoulder doesn’t allow him to play tennis anymore, but he still hits the courts for games of pickleball. Kern, a high school tennis coach and elementary school teacher from Iola, Kan., organized his own pickleball camp at Iola High School this summer. After the positive turnout, the recreation department of Iola authorized the use of indoor recreation space for Kern to hold additional camps next summer.
“It was real fun. People from all ages came out and just had a good time,” said Kern, who took part in the Show-Me State Games competition Saturday.
The Columbia Parks and Recreation Department has made similar moves to accommodate the increasing interest in the sport. Rock Quarry Park and Albert-Oakland Park feature regulation pickleball courts as well as New Haven Elementary School that was the site for the Show Me Games competition. Forty people competed in singles, doubles and mixed doubles competition from Friday through Sunday.
Jerri Deming, co-ambassador for Columbia, hopes to see moves in the future to encourage the growth of pickleball. The increasing volume of emails she has received speaks to the popularity of the sport in Columbia. Talking to people in passing, pickleball constantly comes up with people asking how they can get involved.
“Up to now its spread by word of mouth, people bringing friends out. There’s lots that can and needs to happen to continue to advance the sport,” Jerri Deming said. “We hope to create a sort of community league, something more organized.”
Jerri Deming envisions beginner lessons to ease people into the game. Lessons would help retention within the sport because it would ease the uncomfortable feelings that come with being “thrown out on the court by a friend,” according to Jerri Deming.
While rules and regulations allow participation from anyone interested, pickleball can help to refine skills in other racket sports. Such was the case Sunday for Chris Claypool, 20, of Jefferson City. Claypool plays tennis at Westminster College.
“It’s fun. Plus it helps improve my tennis game," Chris Claypool said. "It’s different than tennis, but there are a lot of similarities. Court movement, reflexes, racket skills can all be improved playing pickleball.”
The uniqueness of the game also has an attractive quality. Janice Phelps, a retired physical education teacher, said she has seen a lot of sports in her teaching career. Some “new age” games come and go as a fad, but pickleball seems poised to stay.
“I like to play a variety of different sports. It (pickleball) is quick, there’s lots of movement, it’s exciting,” Phelps, of Harrisburg, said. “It will be around for a long time.”
Those interested in getting involved with pickleball can email the Demings at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the USA Pickleball Association’s Web site at www.usapa.org.