Don’t let the name deceive you, pickleball is no joke.
“It’s such a slimy name,” Susan Sawyer, one of the pickleball competitors in the Missouri State Senior Games held this weekend, said. “It’s really just named after a cute dog.”
Sawyer is referring to the origins of the oddly named, yet fastest growing sport in America, according to the USA Pickleball Association.
Congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell invented the game 55 years ago in Washington using makeshift equipment on a badminton court.
The game - a cross of ping-pong, tennis and badminton - is played on a badminton-sized court with a 36-inch net. Players use a paddle to hit a slightly enlarged Wiffleball back and forth.
After the serve, which is underhand, the rules are very similar to tennis. Most points end with opponents volleying back and forth right in front of the net.
When Pritchard and Bell would play, Pritchard’s dog, Pickles, would fetch the ball and keep it -- Pickle's ball.
“Everyone gets a wrinkled expression when they hear the name,” Victor Cachero, an athlete in the Senior Games, said. “Now if we could only call it smash mouth or something like that,” he said as he trailed off with a smile.
Saturday, there was a round-robin style tournament for the seniors ages 50 and up. They competed in a mixed-doubles event with over 20 competitors.
Dick and Bev Cook, who won the tournament, really enjoyed the people they were competing against.
“We had a blast. There was just a great group of people out there,” Dick Cook said.
The couple, from Blue Springs, Mo., say interacting with the fellow pickleball competitors is their favorite part.
“When you expand your horizons it’s amazing how many people you meet,” said Dick Cook.
They also agreed about what drew them to the sport.
“It’s a lot of fun and a great way to exercise,” said Bev Cook.
Other players had similar things to say.
“It’s fast moving. Exciting. Addictive,” Sandy Stephens said.
“I love it, it’s my priority right now," Sawyer said.
Sawyer said she enjoys that she, and her husband, Roy, can compete together. She especially likes that she can be competing with three other men and still hold her own competitively.
Skip Deming, a Columbia resident, is one of Missouri’s pickleball ambassadors. Deming was an avid tennis player when he was younger, but had to give it up because of damage to his rotator cuff.
As an ambassador, Deming is trying to expand the game, challenging local players to recruit new players. His goal is to eventually have a pickleball complex in Columbia just like a tennis complex.
What makes Deming so ambitious is the nature of the sport, which he think appeals to everybody.
“I’d recommend it to anybody. Starting from 6 (years) on. I’ve seen players that are in their upper 80s. It’s a plus for the game because it appeals to all ages.”
Deming said there are numerous other reasons to play pickleball on top of the lack of physical limitations that come with age.
“It’s an easy game to learn, it’s cheap, its great exercise – my wife sometimes puts on a pedometer (a device that counts how many steps a person takes) and after a day of playing she’s gone two or three miles.”
“Pickleball is great for baby-boomers like me.”