Wheat Ridge embraces Pickleball, America’s Fastest Growing Sport

TARA FOSS (LEFT) AND MARK BASSIGNANI (RIGHT) TEAM UP for a game of pickleball during drop-in hours at the Wheat Ridge Recreation Center. PHOTO: BECKY OLSTAD.

When Wheat Ridge resident Mark Bassignani went to the doctor for his back pain, he left the appointment with an unexpected prescription. 

“You don’t seem to hurt when you play pickleball,” Bassignani recalls the doctor saying. “So keep playing and come see me when you can’t play anymore.”

He’s been playing seven days a week ever since. “If I don’t play, I don’t feel good,” he said. “I’d be a wreck without it.” 

As the sport’s social and physical benefits continue to attract diverse groups, local facilities are expanding to meet the demand. Among these is the largest indoor pickleball facility in the state – 3rd Shot Pickleball – which planned to open in December. “We’re catering to a full range of players,” said General Manager, Max Ireland. “There is a little something for everyone to get excited about.” Services include free beginner clinics, professional-grade courts, a pro shop, and spaces for socializing including a bar with food and drink and a dog-friendly patio. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for Friday, January 12th at 10 a.m. and will be accompanied by free play all day. 

Last year, Wheat Ridge Parks and Recreation added six lighted outdoor courts at Prospect Park and the Wheat Ridge Recreation Center hosts daily drop in times as well as bi-monthly clinics for beginners. 

Pickleball is a racquet-style sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis, played on a smaller court with a net, a perforated plastic ball, and paddles. Or as Bassignani describes it, “a lot like ping pong except you’re standing on the table.”

In the time that he’s been playing around Wheat Ridge over the last eight or nine years, he’s seen the community of regulars grow from five or six initially to around 70 today. 

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America for three years running according to a report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. The report also listed Denver in the top five cities for the highest number of pickleball courts. 

“When you talk about pickleball, it’s been around for a while but it continues to increase in popularity,” said Wheat Ridge Parks & Recreation Director Karen O’Donnell. “We definitely saw an increase during the pandemic as people were looking for safe and socially distant activities.” 

Pickleball is fun to play and easy to learn which makes it an appealing sport for a variety of ages. “You used to see this as an activity primarily for older adults and now a lot of younger folks are getting into pickleball as well so that’s an interesting trend,” O’Donnell said. 

However, the surge in pickleball’s popularity brings with it an increase in sports-related injuries. 

“A lot of people are kind of jumping off the couch and getting into the game, which is great. But if you’re deconditioned or you’re not properly warmed up, you’re gonna lead yourself to potentially have a higher risk of injury,” said Jacob Fletcher, chiropractor and co-owner of Well Beings Integrative Medicine in Wheat Ridge. 

According to Dr. Fletcher, some of the most common types of injuries associated with the game include overuse injuries, like tennis elbow, which results from the repetitive use of a racket or in the case of pickleball, a paddle. And because the sport often involves a lot of quick movements in multiple directions, other common injuries include sprains and strains in the knees and ankles.  

But whether you’ve been playing for years or are just getting into it, there are things you can do to protect yourself from injury. In addition to properly warming up and stretching before a game, Dr. Fletcher also suggests cross training — or doing activities that are not pickleball to help condition yourself for a variety of movements. Taking these precautions to reduce your risk is important considering the extensive benefits the sport offers even beyond physical fitness.

“The mental emotional component of connecting to a community I almost think is more important than the physical aspect from an overall health perspective,” Dr. Fletcher said. 

This emphasis on community connection resonates with players like Bassignani, who finds the social aspect of pickleball just as rewarding as the game itself. “It’s very social,” he said, sharing that the group regularly grabs drinks, hosts the occasional pot luck and even had a recent Christmas celebration. 

If you’re looking to get started, Bassignani says “Just walk in. Show up on any court and – at least in Wheat Ridge – we’re very welcoming.”

MARK BASSIGNANI (LEFT) AND JEN POWERS (RIGHT) TEAM UP FOR A GAME OF pickleball during drop-in hours at the Wheat Ridge Recreation Center. PHOTO BY BECKY OLSTAD

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