Pickleball finds fans in Greybull

Shayne Mazur

For two years running the Sports and Fitness Industry Association has named pickleball the fastest growing sport in the United States and Greybull is no exception to the fervor sweeping the nation. 

The Greybull Recreation District began hosting adult pickleball open gyms in March after the sport was repeatedly requested on community surveys. 

Director Heather Howe applied for a grant through the Rocky Mountain Power Association that provided funds for the equipment. She said the community center’s twice-weekly pickleball open gyms have drawn a crowd of regulars, including seasoned and new players. 

Pickleball is an indoor or outdoor paddle sport where players (singles or doubles) hit a perforated ball over a low net using solid-faced paddles. Combining elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong, the two sides hit the ball back and forth until one side commits a rule infraction.

Growing interest in pickleball is attributed to several factors. The game has a short learning curve, people of varying ages and physical abilities can play, it’s inexpensive and there’s a strong social aspect within the sport.

Greybull pickleball players shared their own reasons for playing: exercise, something fun to do with a spouse and participating in a new activity.

“We started playing pickleball down in Yuma, Arizona,” said Cindy McIntosh, who regularly attends pickleball open gyms with her husband Kip. The couple winters in Arizona where they often play pickleball every day. “There’s a lot of older people that are playing it, because it’s great exercise and it’s fun. It’s a great sport for all ages.”

A love of the game runs in the family. Cindy and Kip introduced their son Clint and his wife Melina to the sport a few years ago, and the pair have been attending pickleball open gyms from the start.

“It’s something that people from just about any skill level can play,” Clint McIntosh said on why the game appeals to a broad audience. “I think the rules really even the playing field for everyone.”

Linda Swanson, pickleball open gym’s reigning “senior” in her early 80s, can attest to this. 

“I’m really here just for fun. I’m past the age of being competitive,” she laughed.

Swanson first played pickleball in Cheyenne in the 1990s. She was involved in the Senior Olympics in Laramie and participated in a few tournaments in Colorado.

“I got encouragement from some friends and boy was I hooked,” she said. “I’m a sports fan. Anything to do with sports, you know, it’s coordination, keeping yourself in shape and in this case, you’re having a really good time, and no one seems to mind if you mess up.”

Swanson said the group of regulars at open gyms are supportive of each other and new players.

“We’re having fun, and everyone’s willing to help everyone else,” she said. “That’s the beauty of this.”


Not a Dog’s Name

Pickleball was invented in the summer of 1965 when Washington State congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell returned to Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island to find their families sitting around bored. When their children complained there was nothing to do, Pritchard went to work inventing a game for everyone.

The property had an old badminton court but lacked the necessary equipment to play. Pritchard and Bell improvised by lowering the net and playing with ping pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. They—along with Barney McCallum, a handy neighbor who helped construct stronger paddles—created the rules for the game.

It was Pritchard’s wife Joan who came up with the name “pickle ball.” A fan of crew racing in college, Joan picked the name as a reference to the leftover rowers who would race for fun in “pickle boat” crew competitions. The Pritchards’ daughter Jeannie later brought home a flea-bitten pup she named Pickles after their sport, and several newspapers would go on to report the sport was named for the dog since it made for a more memorable story.

The first known pickleball tournaments in Washington were populated by tennis players, but by the 1980s the United States Amateur Pickleball Association had organized to propagate the growth of pickleball on a national level. Today pickleball is played in all 50 states and even internationally. 


A Future in Greybull

A handful of Greybull pickleball players brought a proposal before the town council in April requesting future renovations of the tennis courts by the senior center and to consider the inclusion of a pickleball court. 

Town administrator Carrie Hunt said the town hopes to install a multi-purpose court in that area which would include tennis and pickleball options. At the moment, they’re waiting on cost estimates to decide whether to resurface the court or tear it out completely and start from scratch. The town also hopes to find a grant to help fund the project.

There is no current timeline for the project.

For now, Greybull pickleball players will continue their fun and friendly competition at the community center.

Adult pickleball open gyms are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Herb Asp Community Center. There’s a $2 fee and players must be 18 or older. Equipment is available or attendees can bring their own. All fitness and experience levels are welcome.