Happy to be in a Pickle: PickleBall gaining loyal following in Broomfield, CO
Written by PickleBall.net
March 17, 2013
Barely three years ago, Ken Marquardt was often met with quizzical stares when he mentioned the word "pickleball."
Today, a six -person pickleball group he started with in 2010 has blossomed into more than 800 fans who play the tennis-like sport at the Broomfield Community Center and other area recreation centers.
If the rapid rise in popularity seems surprising to others, Marquardt, who calls himself Pickleball Ken, doesn't seem too surprised.
After getting hooked on the game at the suggestion of a friend, he approached recreation centers in the area to help set up regular play times and special courts. He is now an official pickleball ambassador who helps organize games and convince recreation centers to purchase special nets and set aside courts for the sport.
Pickleball is a racket sport that involves a squarish, lightweight racket, a Wiffleball and a badminton court where the net is lowered to 34 inches off the ground.
While some recreation centers seemed doubtful the oddly-named sport would attract a following, Broomfield Community Center staff embraced the racket sport early on, said player Bob Morgenstern. The center now offers pickleball six days a week, and Silver Sneakers members can play for free.
The sport has exploded in Colorado over just a few years, Morgenstern said. "When I started (in 2010,) there were three places you could play. Now there are 20," he said.
Rog Gossard, another official ambassador who began playing four years ago , said he got started at a large Florida retirement community where the town had 120 dedicated courts. Back in Colorado, however, he didn't have the same luck. He ended up driving as far away as Greeley to play, he said. In just four years, Gossard said he can now drop in at any recreation center from Longmont to Broomfield to Westminster and find a robust crowd.
"Other people see it happening when they walk into a gym, and (the players) will say, 'do you want to join in?'" he said. Marquardt said the game's fast following is part friendly promotion and part accessibility. The game can be adjusted for different abilities and ages and is gentle on joints, because of the slower-moving Wiffleball, short net and lightweight racket, he said. Both Marquardt and Morgenstern, who are in their 70s, said they play with plenty of seniors who have discovered the game as a way to get active again.
Regular players include those with Parkinson's disease, cancer or other illnesses. One woman is nearly 90 years old. Another regular has had two knee replacements, two hip replacements, a shoulder replacement and a surgery to put pins in her toes.
"It's so neat to see people get up and get active, get up and do something," Marquardt said. Marquardt himself has gone through a shoulder replacement and said he still spends about 20 hours a week playing pickleball. As a Broomfield-area ambassador, many players seem to know him by name, but those who don't might notice his polo shirt, which sports an embroidered, bespectacled pickle holding a racket. Even his voicemail identifies him as Pickleball Ken.
"It's addictive. You play three times and you catch the disease," he said. Not everyone might catch the bug the same way Marquardt has, but Gossard said he also believes that the third time is the charm for most new players. "When I say 'pickleball,' people get turned off," Gossard said. "So I just ask them to come play instead. After the third time, they are hooked."
Though pickleball is rising in popularity, the sport has been around since 1965, according the USA Pickleball Association. Pickleball began when a group of bored friends modified a badminton court and assorted pieces of sports equipment to create a new game their families could all play together. While trying out the new game, a pet dog named Pickles began stealing the ball, which gave the sport its name.