Pickleball taking Utah, America by storm
Lisa Parker prepares to receive a pickleball serve. (Lisa Parker)
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By Carl Fauver | firstname.lastname@example.org
Forget Lassie, Old Yeller, Snoopy or even Rin Tin Tin. For some 2.5 million people across the United States, the dog they most recognize is “Pickles.”
After all, the other doggies don’t have one of America’s fastest-growing sports named after them—pickleball.
The name was born in 1965, when a few families living on Bainbridge Island in Washington State’s Puget Sound, just west of Seattle invented the activity, to try something different on their badminton court. One of them had a dog named Pickles, who liked to run off with the ball whenever it bounced out of play. As the families brainstormed a name for their new pastime, “pickleball” was suggested and stuck.
Pickleball is typically played on a wooden or cement floor—indoors or out—using a solid paddle to bat a “wiffle-style” ball over a 3-foot, ground-level net. It’s been described as a combination of tennis and ping pong. And one of its biggest Utah champions is retired Murray High School Softball Coach and Athletic Director Lisa Parker.
“I first saw the game while playing softball at the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George a few years ago,” Parker said. “Not long after that, a friend of mine who had played pickleball while in college took me to try it. I fell in love instantly, and within a few days, I had my own paddles and was figuring out how to construct a court at my house.”
She is not the only one in love with the game.
“Ours is one of the fastest-growing sport in the United States,” said USA Pickleball Association President David Jordan. “As an example, when I ran the (Huntsman World) senior games event registration two years ago, it was not ‘sold out’ for two or three days. But, when I did the same thing last year, more than 650 slots were sold out in just eight hours. And mixed doubles was full in about 20 minutes.”
Parker was Murray High School’s softball coach for 23 years, and co-athletic director for 16. Since retiring as a teacher two years ago, and as coach last year, she’s thrown herself full speed into her new sport.
“I’ve competed in pickleball tournaments in California, Nevada, Idaho and Colorado,” she said. “Here in Utah, I’ve been all over, from St. George to Ogden to Brigham City.”
Parker also completed construction of that home pickleball court by pouring an 8-foot cement extension to a pre-existing, outside basketball court.
“It’s just an amazingly fun sport, while also being a very social activity,” she added. “I’ve made so many new friends through pickleball.”
One of those is Trent Allsup, her frequent mixed doubles tournament partner.
“I met (Trent) while playing pickleball at Dewey Bluth Park in Sandy,” Parker said. “We just seemed to hit it off, and we’ve done well in several different tournaments.”
Parker and a pair of her fellow players have also partnered to launch a website, where they explain more about pickleball, provide tournament information and market paddles, balls and other accessories. The three women involved are Shawna, Kathy and Lisa. They separated their initials with O’s and came up with sokolpickleball.com.
“You can buy a good pickleball paddle for about $85,” Parker added. “But it’s also easy to give the sport a try without spending any money. If you show up at a public pickleball court and watch for a while, normally someone will offer to loan you a paddle to give it a go, before you even have to ask.”
But, she adds, prepare to become addicted quickly.
“This really is a sport for everyone. Kids and families play it together, and I’ve also played people in their 80s. It’s a great way to stay active later into life.”
Even if you never lace up your shoes or grip a paddle, at least now you’ll know exactly what people are talking about when they mention “pickleball.” The name comes from a canine and not from a vinegar-soaked vegetable.