Gypsum residents say creation of pickleball courts is top rec need |

Gypsum residents say creation of pickleball courts is top rec need

Robin Santoro (upper left) delivers a serve as Mike Downs (lower left) prepares for the return volley during Friday's pickleball session at Gypsum Recreation Center.
Pam Boyd/ |

GYPSUM — When the town of Gypsum got the results from a recent community survey about recreation needs, town officials got a bit of a surprise.

Residents indicated the creation of pickleball courts was their top priority. Pickleball — a sport that lots of folks have never heard of. That will soon change, not just in Gypsum, but in communities throughout the country.

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America. On the official USA Pickleball Association website, it is described as “a paddle sport created for all ages and skill levels. The rules are simple and the game is easy for beginners to learn, but can develop into a quick, fast-paced, competitive game for experienced players.”

Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. It can be played in singles or doubles format and the only equipment required is a paddle, a wiffleball and tennis shoes.

Mike Downs of Cordillera plays pickleball at the Gypsum Recreation Center on Mondays and Fridays. He and his wife, Yvonne, travel to Avon to play on Tuesday and Thursdays and then round out their week playing at Vail on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Downs claims it’s his wife who is addicted to the sport, but he is plainly an enthusiast as well. While they love the sport, they also love the whole pickleball vibe.

“There’s a lot of camaraderie,” said Downs.

Gypsum’s Pickleball Ambassadors

Long-time locals Jerry and Robin Santoro launched the Gypsum pickleball program in November 2014. The are both official ambassadors for the sport through the USA Pickleball Association. They organize play and offer instruction during the Monday and Friday sessions at the Gypsum Recreation Center. They have loaner paddles for people who are trying the sport for the first time and pickleball play takes over the indoor court area from 9 a.m. to noon. Everyone is welcome and the sessions regularly attract around 25 players.

“Three years ago, if you said ‘pickleball’ no one would know what you were talking about,” said Jerry. “But people who play will tell you it’s addictive. It is hard to get good at pickleball, but it is easy and fun to learn how to play.”

Pickleball, like any sport, has its own set of rules and it takes some time to learn them all. But not knowing the rules doesn’t stand in the way of enjoying the sport.

“You can get a paddle and some instruction and in 20 minutes, you can start to play,” said Jerry. “We welcome people who have never played before.”

Jerry noted there’s some misconceptions about the sport.

“It’s not just an older person’s sport. We taught it at Eagle Valley Middle School,” said Jerry, the former principal at Eagle Valley Middle School. “Kids haven’t been playing it because there weren’t any courts locally.”

That’s about to change. Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll said the town and Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District are teaming up to create eight outdoor pickleball courts at the Gypsum Creek Golf Club. The entities have torn out the old clay tennis courts at the site to accommodate the new pickleball facilities.

“We are pouring the concrete in two weeks and then the hard part of it will be it has to cure for a month before we can use it,” said Shroll. He hopes that pickleball play can commence at the new outdoor courts by September.

Opportunities abound

With courts throughout the valley, there are lots of opportunities to play pickleball recreationally. There are also lots of opportunities to get competitive at the sport.

There are pickleball tournaments offered throughout the country. “People find their level of what they want to do in the sport,” said Jerry.

As for the Santoros, they love the fact that they can play at home and on the road.

“We travel with our paddles now, everywhere we go,” said Robin.

Jerry noted he is still an avid tennis player along with his love for pickleball. Other players have found that tennis is too hard on their joints, but pickleball provides the fast action of tennis with less wear and tear on their bodies.

Once people find the sport, they often become pickleball promoters.

“I am a nurse and a few of may patients came in and told me I should start playing pickleball,” said Karen Reitz of Gypsum.

“I like the game’s fast feel and hand/eye coordination. It’s good for your body and your brain when you get older,” Reitz said “Plus all the people who play are so friendly and nice.”

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