Randy Spencer, 70, an associate broker with Gate City Real Estate, is an avid racquetball player. But when he heard that the Fitness Inc. Health Club in Pocatello was constructing seven new pickleball courts, he was ecstatic.
"I haven't really played the sport too much, but I have watched many championship matches, and my wife and I are really looking forward to getting involved when the courts are completed (sometime in December)," he said.
Pickleball is a combination of tennis, ping-pong and squash but is played at a badminton pace. The strategy is more about ball placement rather than pure power, thus less aggressive or competitive players can reap the same benefits stronger, better fit or more powerful players can.
It is usually played with wooden (or graphite) paddles and a small Wiffle ball on a 20- by 44-foot concrete court with a 36-inch high net that can droop to 34 inches in the middle. There are doubles, mixed doubles and singles competition.
Players hit the perforated plastic Wiffle ball with a square wooden paddle about the size of racquetball racket. Only the serving team can score, and the first team to 11 wins.
In 2010, Pocatello's George Brown, then 66, was named an official ambassador of the sport in Southeast Idaho. His duties included getting the word out about pickleball and coordinating with other ambassadors throughout the state.
The national recognition is very positive, but Brown lamented that there were few venues in Pocatello to play a regulation contest back in those days. One had to improvise much in the way youngsters engage in pick-up baseball games where no official leagues exist.
“People play in their driveways, in parking lots, in the street, in tennis courts, in cul-de-sacs, wherever,” he said at the time. “We play where we can, but it wouldn’t take a whole lot to set up some official courts somewhere.”
“I love the game,” Spencer said. "It's fun to play and very exciting to watch."
And even though it is played at a lower gear than most sports of its kind, he added that there is still plenty of competition involved.
“That doesn’t mean you cannot get a pretty good workout, though," he said. "It’s just less stressful on knees and other joints.”
He added that an advantage is that an elderly person (or one of any age, for that matter) can learn with just a few practice games under their belts.
“It helps you stay young, it’s easy on the body, it’s a whole lot of fun, and it’s growing big time — all over the country,” he said.
Bill Davis, owner of Fitness Inc., is excited as well, taking some 16,000 square-feet of space that formerly housed the E.I.P. gymnastics venue at the Westwood Mall to convert into seven courts for about $20,000.
"I am very happy to do this," he said. "We know the sport is very popular and hope people will take advantage of our new courts to play and enjoy the game."
The USA Pickleball Association was founded in 1984 and has helped the activity grow in popularity by organizing leagues and tournaments throughout the country. It is played in just about every state, but is especially prominent is the Southwest and in California, Arizona, Oregon and Washington.
It is even offered at Idaho State University under the umbrella of “Racquet Sports” and is also included in the Southeast Idaho Senior Games. For more information on the Fitness Inc. program, call 208-233-8035. In addition, the Pocatello Recreation Center offers pickleball by modifying existing racquetball courts for the occasion. For details, call 208-232-3901 or click here.