During his career, Mike Miles’ goal was to improve lives through recreational opportunities. He didn’t expect that one of them would improve his own life and remain part of it beyond retirement.
“Around 2013, a guy walked into my office,” Miles said. “He said, ‘You need to have pickleball.’ We became best friends and started pickleball in Arvada (Colorado).”
In the beginning, there were about 35 players. A few years later, Miles and his wife would retire and move to the valley.
“When I left, we had nearly 5,000 players,” Miles said.
He and his wife had planned to retire to the Scottsbluff area, so when Miles found out there was nowhere to play, he decided to do something about it before he got here. In 2014, a program began at the Carpenter Center.
During the first six months or so, there were only three people who’d turn up to the Carpenter Center regularly to play. Miles convinced his wife Kathy to give the sport a try, just so they’d have enough players to play doubles.
“Now we have about 100,” he said.
Pickleball is a relatively new sport, played for the first time in the mid-1960s, although the exact year depends on who you ask. Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington state and a friend, arrived at Pritchard’s home to find his family sitting around with nothing to do, according to the USA Pickleball Association.
Pritchard’s property had a badminton court, but he couldn’t find a full set of rackets. They played with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball.
Over the next couple of weeks, rules were established for the game and it was named “Pickleball,” because Pritchard’s wife said the game reminded her of pickle boats in rowing. Pickle boats are made up of a crew of rowers not chosen by other teams and pickleball is a combination of features from other paddle sports, such as badminton and tennis.
Eventually, pickleball spread beyond Washington state and according to USAPA, by 1990, it was being played in all 50 states. Now there are players around the world.
“This sport is exploding,” Miles said.
The rapid growth of the sport, especially in recent years, is probably because it is easy to play. The rules are simple, it doesn’t take long to learn and anyone of any age or athletic ability can play.
“I’ve had players from 5 years old to 95,” Miles said. “There is not a better game to get particularly the over-50 crowd off their tales.”
The inclusivity of the game is one of the things Lisa Downey enjoys about it. She and her husband began playing in March.
“We had some friends who said, ‘This is so much fun, you need to try it,’” Downey said. “We kept coming because of all the different ages and experience levels. You meet so many different people.”
Janice Wayne has been part of the local pickleball program since the beginning.
“My cousin got me involved,” she said. “I like the exercise and the people.”
Exercise is one of the reasons many people play the game. During Miles’ time in Colorado, he had players who lost hundreds of pounds.
“There are three players here that, between the three of them, have lost 80 pounds,” he said, adding that becoming more active can be a challenge. “If there is something fun you can do, that makes it a lot easier.”
It’s also a sport that doesn’t require much of an investment to get started. Miles lends paddles to newbies for the first few weeks, but if they decide they want to keep playing, they’ll need to buy their own.
“You can spend as little or as much as you want,” he said.
A quick online search for pickleball paddles had results ranging from $11.99 to upward of $160. The price depends on various factors, including the material used and the size.
Pickleball is offered at the Carpenter Center six times a week, with times during the day and in the evening so that more people have the opportunity to participate.
There are also two Skills and Drills sessions during the week where the focus is on technique versus actual gameplay.
Pickleball is included in the daily admission for the Carpenter Center, which is $7.
Those who are curious about pickleball will have the chance to see what it is all about later this month. A recreational tournament is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. until about 2 p.m. on Jan. 18 at the Carpenter Center.
A competitive tournament will take place during the same time frame on Jan. 25. The public is encouraged to stop by.
The tournaments are in memory of Terry “Doc” Haney, a local physician who got involved in the sport before he died in 2018.
“It’s a way, as friends of Doc’s, that we can remember him,” Miles said. “He was a local physician and a great man.”