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June 19, 2013
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Pickleball picking up steam among Vail Valley players

VAIL - Pickleball may set outdoor records for the best game with the silliest name, and the most grins.

Mike Keeler played it Wednesday for the first time, and left the court with a huge smile on his face.

“It’s easy on someone with knees like I have,” Keeler said.

Joe Link is among those trying to grow pickleball locally.

“It’s quick, it’s a good workout and you don’t have to move as much as you would in tennis,” Link said.

Link was a six handicap golfer before he turned to tournament tennis. He still works some tennis around his pickleball schedule.

They play on the tennis courts across the street from Golden Peak. They have the courts 8:30 a.m. to noon on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Monday it’s open play. Anyone can drop in and try the game.

Wednesday is pretty open too, and they spend some extra time teaching beginners.

Saturdays they play as many games as they can.

If that’s not enough, G.R. Rufenacht is running games Monday nights at Avon Elementary School. Those games ran through last winter.

Rufenacht is sort of the local pickleball Johnny Appleseed. He started by taping lines for the courts with blue painting masking tape.

Local Jan Noel started playing when she was recovering from an injury and her doctor told her to learn something new. She picked pickleball.

Professional soccer player and U.S. national team goalie Hope Solo loves pickleball so much that she built a court in her backyard.

When we caught up with the local pickleball players, U.S. Ski Team standout Heidi Kloser was playing tennis with her mom, Emily on the neighboring court at Golden Peak and took a few swings at pickleball.

It’s part badminton, part ping-pong and part tennis. It doesn’t put much strain on joints, and the courts are about a quarter the size of tennis courts, so you don’t have to cover as much ground.

Proliferating pickleball

It’s one of the world’s fastest growing racket games, said Bob Seward, the Vail Recreation District’s tennis director.

“It’s good for people who don’t have quite the range they need to play tennis,” Seward said.

The Vail Recreation District started pickleball last year at Vail’s Booth Falls courts. This year the Vail Recreation District has three pickleball courts on the Golden Peak courts.

Some days they’ll have a dozen players, other days they’ll have two dozen chatting on the sidelines waiting for a spot on one of those three courts, Seward said.

According to the USA Pickleball Association, it’s played by an estimated 100,000 adults, more than triple the number in 2003. There are about 2,500 public courts in 420 locations across North America — 43 states and four Canadian provinces — 421 if you count the courts in Vail, which we do.

In 2003 there were 150 courts in the whole country, said the USA Pickleball Association.

The first national championship was played in 2009.

In Saddlebrooke, Ariz., 450 people are in the pickleball club. The Villages in Florida has 100 courts.

Summit County and Steamboat Springs have huge groups of pickleball players.

About that name

Pickleball was invented in 1965 in Joel Pritchard’s backyard. The former congressman and some friends were sitting around after golf and put together a makeshift court using busted up badminton equipment and a whiffle ball. The name came from the Pritchard’s cocker spaniel Pickles, who liked to chase the ball. The Pritchards built the first permanent court in their backyard.

Pritchard died in 1997, at age 72. He was Washington state’s lieutenant governor for eight years, 1988-1996. Some people remember that, but more people remember pickleball.

Pop goes the pickleball

The paddles make a distinctive pop sound when you hit the ball, which is music to players and din to those who don’t.

In some retirement communities, a few owners claim pickleball noise is destroying property values, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A noise study found that pickleball popping spiked above 60 decibels. Temple University’s civil engineering department says that’s the level of background conversation in a restaurant and a window air conditioner at 100 feet.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Jun 19, 2013 11:24PM Published Jun 19, 2013 11:24PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.