Pickleball Enthusiasts Flock to Apex Center

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Pickleball is the most beneficial, exciting, inspirational and all-around fun game you’ve never heard of. But players of this rapidly growing sport for all abilities praise it as “a wonderful game that just might change your life” to one that’s infinitely healthier and happier.

This game for all ages combines elements of tennis, ping-pong and badminton. It’s offered at the Apex Center and facilitated by “Pickleball Ken” Marquardt, an enthusiastic ambassador for the sport. The word “ambassador” is more than just a description; it’s actually an official title for volunteers like Ken, who nurture and promote pickleball in cities, neighborhoods and metropolitan areas across the United States.

It’s played on a court, like tennis but half the size, with a Wiffle ball and paddles. The game’s roots go back to 1965, when Washingtonians Joel Pritchard and friend Bill Bell decided to liven up an afternoon at Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island by playing badminton with their families. Due to equipment shortages, defects and challenges, the game evolved over the next few weeks to use short paddles, lower nets and a perforated plastic ball. The original purpose was to provide a game that the whole family could play together. The game was named after the Pritchards’ cocker spaniel, Pickles, who kept any balls that came his way.

Soon afterward, rules and guidelines were developed, equipment was built, pickleball grew in popularity and now, it’s played across the US and is included in the National Senior Games. It also had its first national tournament for players of all ages in Buckeye, Arizona, November 2-8, 2009.

“Pickleball Ken” is a walking testimonial to the sport’s many benefits. Like many players, he was introduced to the sport after suffering major physical setbacks. An avid tennis and racquetball player, he faced many challenges, including two shoulder replacement surgeries, fractures and other serious illnesses. As a result, for many years he was unable to participate in sports until a friend introduced him to pickleball in 2010.

He soon became an enthusiast and then an official volunteer ambassador, acting as a spokesperson for the sport and facilitating groups in the northwest metro area. Today, Pickle Ball Ken has helped bring about 470 players to various facilities in Westminster, Broomfield, Lakewood and Arvada.

“The community is one of the best things about the sport. People inspire each other, play together, enjoy social activities (like the little pickleball party for 150 that Ken had at his home in July) and last but not least, have lots of laughs.”

Most important and gratifying to Ken, however, are the inspirational stories of players and their life journeys. “This sport is for people who think about “can” versus “can’t,” Ken said. It’s difficult just to pick out a few examples among the current group playing at the Apex Center, but here are a few testimonials:

“I retired last March…and my personal health took a turn for the worse and I underwent 3 surgeries in 6 weeks…The process of redefining myself has been a challenge…last October I joined the Westminster Rec Center and saw people playing with a Wiffle ball and laughing! Pickleball has become my lifeline and I cherish my picklepals!”

“The game is fun, fast and a great way to exercise…I can just show up and play. The price is right and everyone has been very encouraging. I laugh, I sweat, I increase the endorphins…pickleball will enhance your life!”

“After I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease…I found that one of the best things I could do for myself is to get active, so that’s what I did. As it turns out, I saw a flyer for pickleball in November of 2011, and I haven’t missed a week since the first time I picked up a pickleball paddle. It’s good for my reflexes and my balance. Parkinson’s has a tendency to make you slow, and pickleball helps counteract that symptom. And I have met some really good people, so socially it has been great.”

Last but not least, here’s a testimonial in the form of a poem about pickleball, written by Jay Goldstein with the old song “16 Tons” in mind:

“I was born one morning when the sun didn’t shine

I picked up my paddle and walked up to the line

I served up fifteen aces like shoot’n fish in a bowl

and pickleball Ken said “well bless your soul”

You serve fifteen aces, what do ya get

another day older and deeper in debt

Saint Peter don’t you call me, cause I ain’t ready yet

I owe my soul to the court and the net

Some people say a person is made out of mud

A pball player is made out of hustle and blood

hustle and blood and skin and bone

A dink that’s weak and a slam that’s strong

When you see me loading up, better step aside

a lot of people didn’t and a lot of people sighed

one paddle of iron, the other of steel

if the forehand don’t get you, then the backhand will

You serve fifteen aces what do ya get

another day older and deeper in debt

Saint Peter don’t you call me, cause I aint ready yet,

I owe my soul to the court and the net”