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Fast-growing pickleball takes off at GBRC
Charlie Malone and Larry Parsons
Larry Parsons, left, and Charlie Malone play a doubles game of pickleball during the morning drop-in time, Friday at the Carl Soden Recreation Center. The drop-in pickleball groups draw several people each morning and afternoon. - photo by Daniel Kiewel

People of all ages in Great Bend are developing an appetite for the game with the culinary name, and at the Great Bend Rec Center, pickleball is garnering a large following.

So what is this game catching is the fancy of people of all ages and skill levels?

“Pickleball is kind of a mix between tennis, ping pong and badminton, all of those run together,” GBRC Assistant Superintendent Chris Umphres explained.

The sport is played singles or doubles on a court less than half the size of a tennis court, with a modified net in the middle. It uses small paddles made of a composite materials and a whiffle ball style ball, which slows the flight of the ball and makes it easier to control.

These basic rules and smaller playing area make it an ideal game for just about anyone of all ages and skill levels. It also makes it an ideal game for beginners, Umphres said, because the game is easy to learn.

“I’ve seen 10-year-olds playing against 80-year-olds. It’s a great family sport, a great sport just to get out there and meet some people,” Umphres said. “I don’t think people should be intimidated to come and try pickleball.” 

But it is more than just the simplicity of the game. Its wide-ranging appeal has helped fuel its growth, both in Great Bend and across the country, because if offers a chance to get good exercise in a very social setting.

“It just keeps you motivated (to exercise),” he said. “You can get to hang out with your friend or somebody from the public and actually get some exercise.”

According to Umphres, GBRC started the pickleball group a little over a year ago after being approached by members of the public. From there, they started offering drop-in times at both the Carl Soden Rec Center on Stone Street and the Activity Center on 18th Street. Once people started to see both the social and health benefits of pickleball, the group took off.

Julie Mitchell, who plays with a group at the Rec Center each morning and afternoon, said it is more than just exercise; it is a way to connect with people.

“We all love it, and we have become like a family,” Mitchell said. “We all love each other.”

For some people, it’s just life-changing,” she added.

The connections she’s made by playing pickleball have created friendships which extend well beyond the court, and helped rekindle old friendships.

Like many others who pick up the game, Mitchell said she was hooked from the first day a friend showed her how to play.

“I’ve been playing for a year and a half, and I think I’ve missed two days (playing with the group),” she said.

Beyond the social aspect, Mitchell said it is a fun, exciting way stay active each day. She finds it less monotonous than other types of exercise. The fact that it is generally lower impact than walking or running also helps pickleball’s appeal to a wider range of ages and health conditions, she said.

For those interested in learning the game, Umphres said GBRC plans to offer organized pickleball classes this fall, and the drop-in groups are open to anyone who wants to come check the game out. Membership for drop-in pickleball is $5 per month.

Anyone interested in learning more about it can stop by the Rec Center at 1214 Stone St. or telephone 620-793-3755.