Steamboat Springs Pickleball Association continues to see growth, interest in game
Steamboat Springs — A pickleball court is just 44 feet in length and 20 feet wide, but a new generation of Steamboat Springs athletes have learned that those dimensions reach beyond the boundaries of the game and can produce a more active lifestyle.
“It’s the Fountain of Youth for many retired and sedentary people,” said Lynn Abbott. “The improvement in the fitness level is dramatic. Pickleball is a healthy thing for retired people, and people in general.”
Lynn isn’t actually a player, but she has seen the impact the sport has had on her husband, Chuck Abbott, and he’s thankful he has learned to love the game, which he plays three times a week.
Chuck discovered the game a little over five years ago at the age of 79. He describes the game as a mixture of tennis, ping pong and racquetball.
He was initially drawn to pickleball because he could play a game and not end up physically wiped out after it was over. At 85, Chuck is still able to play the game at a high level without the aches and pains associated with many other activities.
The game of pickleball arrived in Steamboat Springs in 2011, and at first glance, it looks like a hybrid tennis match. It is played on a much smaller court than its distant cousin, has a few different rules and is scored differently.
“We started with maybe 25 people … mostly ex-tennis players that like the game but didn’t want to or couldn’t play tennis anymore,” said Audrey Small, president of the Steamboat Springs Pickleball Association.
The local group has grown to about 250 players and includes a wide range of age groups that play at different levels. She said the main focus of the group is to grow the sport and organize local play for its members. The association also hosts social gatherings and clinics that introduce the game to more people while educating a growing audience about the rules, scoring and etiquette of the game.
“It’s a great way to meet new people,” Small said. “I like it because I can just come out and play. I don’t have to have a partner, and I might just show up on a Saturday morning and play as a single person.”
She admits there are still a lot of older players in the game, but she added that the local group can’t be defined by age or athletic expectations. Small said she is also starting to see more families playing the game.
The local association hosts beginner clinics in the summer and a few in winter, and members meet several times a week for open play from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, from 4 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays and from 3 to 5 p.m. on Fridays. The biggest groups of the week can normally be found at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
“What appeals to me is that the sport appeals to all ages, and it is a very communal sport,” Chuck said. “I’ve made more friends through pickleball than in any other sport. You play with everybody, and it’s not as segregated as other sports.”
For Chuck, the game is as much about hanging out with friends as it is scoring a big win. However, he is quick to point out that the game can be very competitive and physically demanding.
“It’s an extremely fast game especially if you happen to have four proficient players,” he said. “You have to move quickly, and there are established methods of playing. You have to get up to the net, find the right angles and block off your opposition’s angle.”
The sport’s popularity is no longer viewed as a passing trend, and as a result, the city lined the two tennis courts at Howelsen Hill for pickleball. And more recently, the city, in a partnership with the pickleball association, has converted two older outdoor clay tennis courts into eight new pickleball courts.
Loretta Conway, co-director of the Tennis Center, said the pickleball association raised more than $50,000 to complete the project this summer. She said the Steamboat facility rents paddles and recently started carrying pickleball gear in the pro shop. She also expects the Tennis Center to expand, someday, and hopefully add indoor pickleball courts.
Chuck and other members of the association are hoping to see the sport’s growth continue, and he’s happy that the game is part of his life.
“I keep trying to improve,” Chuck said. “But at 85, I think I might be on a downhill track. I do my best to compete with the 40- and 50-year-old guys, and I’m happy with that.”
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