Two times every week, just before lunchtime, roughly one dozen pickleball players arrive at the Cortez Recreation Center with wooden paddles and big smiles.
After exchanging hellos and lacing up their shoes, the 12 or so individuals disperse to different courts to engage in competitive matches featuring high speed shots and thrilling rallies.
An increasingly popular pastime across the U.S. and abroad, pickleball ranks as one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation. Invented in Bainbridge Island, Wash., in 1965, pickleball is played with wooden paddles and a plastic ball and combines elements of tennis, badminton and pingpong.
“I’ve heard people say (pickleball) is the fastest-growing sport in the world,” said local resident Larry Claycomb, who has been playing for roughly one year. “It’s a lot of fun, you can work up a sweat and get a little competition.”
Because pickleball is played on a court measuring 20-by-44 feet, it is especially popular among older players who crave the action of racquetball or tennis without the strenuous movements.
“I like (pickleball) because it allows me to be physically active, but it isn’t stressful on my joints,” said Claycomb. “It’s nice because points are fast and intense, but don’t require a lot of running.”
According to the USA Pickleball Association website, pickleball is becoming increasingly popular in retirement communities and the number of places to play in the U.S. has doubled since 2010.
“A lot of retirement communities in Arizona have pickleball courts now,” said Claycomb. “I’ve heard stories of people choosing a retirement community in part because it has pickleball courts.”
While pickleball is relatively new to the Cortez area, a group of local residents, including Dick Donahue and Brad Wayt, have been playing in the area for roughly two years.
The group originally played outdoors before moving to the Rec Center one year ago after the city of Cortez placed lines marking court boundaries on the indoor basketball courts.
In addition to marking the indoor courts, the City of Cortez is considering applying for a grant that would help transform two of the tennis courts near the library into pickleball courts.
Regardless of whether the outdoor courts are developed however, local pickleball players plan to continue playing matches and enjoying one another’s company.
Anyone interested in trying their hand at the fast-growing sport is encouraged to stop by the Rec Center between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Tuesday or Thursday.
“Anyone is welcome to stop by and play,” Wayt said. “It’s a lot of fun and can provide a great challenge.”