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Continues to zoom in popularity especially in Colorado Springs

One part tennis, one part ping pong.

Put them together, and you have a sport that’s sweeping the nation.

We can’t get enough of pickleball.

Go ahead, laugh. Just saying it can’t help but elicit a smile. Pickleball.

Sure, it might have a funny name, but everyone taking part in this sport – played on a badminton-sized court using a flat paddle and a perforated plastic ball – are the ones smiling now. 

That is, of course, if they can find an unoccupied court.

“This game is extremely popular,” says ambassador and competitive player Joe Johnson of Colorado Springs. “The YMCA’s are full every morning. Now, larger-chain facilities like Lifetime Fitness have set up pickleball courts in their gyms. Tennis players are requesting to play pickleball now.”

The sport especially appeals to the older generation; you can fit four pickleball courts on one tennis court, which greatly reduces wear and tear on the body when continually running and lunging to return winners down the line.

If you still can’t imagine the sport, think of it this way.

“It’s like ping pong,” says Steve Boone who, with wife Ramona, serve as the sport’s commissioners each July for the Rocky Mountain State Games and direct the annual Great Plains Regional Tournament each September. “Except you’re standing on the table.”

Pickleball is billed as the nation’s fastest growing sport, and Colorado Springs has a front-row seat to its rapid rise in popularity.

For years, area pickleball enthusiasts received permission to put lines on existing tennis courts to get in on the action, but longed for a place to call their own. 

Then, last August, a 15-court pickleball complex was dedicated at Monument Valley Park, the result of years of fundraising by the Pikes Peak Pickleball Association and a partnership with the city of Colorado Springs to make it happen.

“It’s always nice when we try to partner with local organizations,” says Steve Bodette, the city’s project coordinator who oversaw construction. “We had recently resurfaced the courts at Monument Valley twice. Instead of spending money for resurfacing again, we decided to redo the courts for solely pickleball. The pickleball folks are well organized. They lobbied for courts and they stepped up and provided quite a bit of the funding.”

In 2003, the Boones picked up a pickleball paddle for the first time. They recall the lean years when the PPPA had reached a robust 60 members. They still spend part of their weekends each summer giving free lessons to share the sport.

At last count, the PPPA has more than 600 players, ranging in ages from 8 to 89; 85 percent of the members are between the ages of 51-80.

“We formed a club so we could have tournaments, and we’d raise money to give to the city,” Moore says. “Our club has nurtured and grown this sport, and we have a lot of dedicated people, all volunteers. Pickleball is fun and addictive.”

The local growth continues with the addition of four pickleball courts at John Venezia Community Park, which is set to open this summer at the corner of Briargate and Union boulevards.

In July, the Rocky Mountain State Games will make its pickleball debut at the new facility.

“Pickleball has quickly become one of our largest sports, and we’re excited to see such growth in our older demographic,” says Aubrey McCoy, the director of operations and marketing for the Colorado Springs Sports Corp, an event management company that runs the State Games. “It’s a huge testament to the local pickleball community. It’s hard to deny their passion and commitment to the sport.”

According to McCoy, pickleball entries at the State Games have more than doubled since the sport made its debut in 2013, starting at 82 and increasing to 182 by last year.

Even Colorado Springs has a footprint on the professional level as the father-son tandem of Scott and Daniel Moore won multiple events at the most-recent national championships.

A professional circuit isn’t the ultimate destination for this sport, which was created in 1965.

“Our goal is to get this sport into the Olympics,” Johnson says.