COLUMBIA — Skip Deming has been an MU student, a soldier in Vietnam and a school principal.
Now retired, he has taken up another calling — sharing the joys of pickleball with others.
Last week, Deming, 65, was given an award for his pickleball mentorship in Columbia by the Mayor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Health.
Deming brought pickleball to Columbia four years ago and has been a key player — literally and metaphorically — in helping pickleball become what he calls "the fastest-growing sport in the country."
He was in Arizona with his wife, Jerri, one winter when he was first exposed to pickleball. Deming said he and his wife walked by people playing at an RV resort and he had no interest at all when some players tried to convince them to join.
"If I ever have to play that damn game," Deming, an avid tennis player, said to his wife, "just shoot me!"
But things changed for Deming when he tore his rotator cuff and could no longer play tennis. Pickleball is easier to play than tennis, Deming explained, because it involves a more natural motion — almost like bowling — and serving isn’t as demanding.
Deming found that pickleball wasn't so bad after all and has helped it gain a following in Columbia. Hugh Curry also discovered pickleball in Arizona and sought to start a club in Columbia — only to find that Deming had beat him to it.
"He does a lot of the work for the club," said Curry, who nominated Deming for the mentor award. "People do good work, you try to repay them."
Curry wrote and submitted the nomination, emphasizing how much work Deming contributed to the sport in Columbia of his own accord. The nomination entry notes how Deming "took on assembling unique equipment, setting up courts with specified dimensions, and found places to play in all kinds of weather."
On Sunday and Wednesday evenings, Deming, Curry and a handful of other devoted pickleball players use the resources that Deming organized to socialize and stay active.
On Wednesday at New Haven Elementary School, following the award ceremony at City Hall, a number of people clad in bright pink and green T-shirts with a pickle and the words "Show-Me Pickleball" on them gathered to play, just like every Wednesday evening.
They play doubles games, mostly, and Deming knocked his black plastic Mizzou paddle anxiously against his knuckles as he awaited a serve. When it is his turn to serve, Deming calls out the score:
"Three-eight? Three-seven? Three-eight. I'm the one," indicating the score and that he was the first to serve of his team. The serve is underhand but looks slightly more polished than some of the other players' serves.
"You watch Skip, he's got the good ole tennis follow-through," Curry said, chuckling.
Throughout the matches, there is laughter and joking. Curry said he doesn't go "all-out," and said that opposing teams and teammates touch the ends of their paddles after a game so that "every game is a good game."
"I'm just glad I found something I can be active in a social setting with people I enjoy," Deming said.
Once the rally started between Deming's team and the opposition, they lost a ball under some of the mats in the gym. Deming and his partner waited patiently while the others searched for the ball and joked that they were just trying to stop their rally.
Because of Deming, pickleball has been a part of the Show-Me State Games for four years. Community members enjoy their time together and staying active and healthy.
"If it wasn't for Skip, I don't know if pickleball would even be here in Columbia," said Kiki Lovig, a pickleball player for the past two years and a Show-Me State Games gold medal winner.
Deming said that being retired and a grandfather is everything he thought it would be and "worth waiting for." His three granddaughters are all under the age of 6, and he hopes to share his passion for pickleball with them soon.
While he was apprehensive about pickleball at first, Deming is now one of the biggest advocates for it in Columbia, and that doesn't seem like it will change anytime soon.
"It's a game I just fell in love with," Deming said.