When Kirby Fisher moved to Parker two years ago, he was afraid he would have to give up a sport he discovered in Michigan. A sport he spent three years learning, playing, and loving.
“I came here and found out the city had all this great pickleball stuff,” Fisher says, referring to the Parker Fieldhouse’s weekday morning drop-in games. “We lucked out … Six courts, lots of court time. It’s all good here.”
According to many of the regular players at the fieldhouse, pickleball is the fastest-growing sport for adults over 50 in the United States. Or North America. Or the world.
What’s beyond question is how much pickleball players, most of them seniors, love the sport.
“It’s a combination of ping-pong, tennis and badminton,” says Parker resident and ex-recreational tennis player Dick Barton. “A lot of people are skeptical of it, they just don’t think you can have the same level of activity that you do” with tennis.
“In some respects it’s faster because you’re closer,” he adds.
The only equipment needed is a plastic ball, similar to a wiffle ball but slightly harder to allow for more bounce, and a wooden or composite paddle, a bit smaller than those used for racquetball. Courts are 20 feet wide and 44 feet long, with a 7-foot no-volley zone, called the “kitchen,” extending from the net on both sides.
Parker Fieldhouse sports supervisor Bob Bullock says interest in pickleball, nationally and locally, is “monumental.” He remembers when he began hosting the games in 2010 and often had to join in just to make a foursome.
“We started out running it two days a week with one net,” he says. “Now we’re here all the time.”
On average, 45 players from Parker, Centennial, Aurora, Castle Rock and Highlands Ranch make it to the Fieldhouse every day, Bullock, says, with participation reaching 70 players on peak days.
Fisher and Bullock also coordinate “boot camps” to instruct newcomers to the game and guided play sessions to prepare them for the intermediate and advanced drop-in games. On July 29, the fieldhouse will host its first pickleball tournament.
As much as players enjoy the components of exercise and competition, many mention how much they enjoy the flexibility and the opportunity to socialize.
“I like that you can drop in and play at any time, whatever works with your schedule,” says Parker’s Kaye Rasmussen, pointing to a player she recently made a bridge date with. “When you’re waiting to get out on the court you get to talk to people and meet people.
Games are open to players 18 and older, but it’s especially popular with seniors. Bullock says he’s glad it gives them a place, and sport, to rally around.
He recalls a game he played against a 90-year-old opponent. At one point, he was leading 8-0.
He lost the game 11-8.
“It’s surprising how good of shape these seniors are in,” Bullock says. “They’ve got to be.”