Tuesday at the Canyon Lake Activities Center, shoes squeaked on the hardwood floor and the sound of balls hitting paddles filled the gymnasium.

It wasn't badminton or table tennis that was being played as part of the Balck Hills Senior Games, but a sport that combines those two with lawn tennis to create a new, more accessible sport.

And it's spreading like wildfire.

Pickleball is a sport that was created outside of Seattle in 1965. It's a combination of tennis and ping-pong that is played with a larger ping pong paddle, a baseball-sized ball on a court that is smaller than a tennis court, 44 feet long by 20 feet wide with a net in the middle that is lower than a tennis court's, 36 inches high.

According to the United States Pickleball Association's website, the game was invented by three fathers who children had grown bored of usual summer activities, so they decided to invent a new sport. 

The website said the origin of the name likely comes from one of the father's wives, who called it pickleball because "the combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats," she said. 

Another account says the name came from one of the families' dog, Pickles, who had a habit of chasing the balls that were used for the game while it was going on.

The appeal, according to CLAC pickleball director Gary Miller, is especially prominent among seniors because the game is fast, competitive, but isn't as strenuous on the body the way tennis or other sports can be.

"It’s social, I’ve made a whole bunch of new friends here at the center, a lot of people who I would have never met before," he said. "I’ve been an athlete my whole life, when I got to 50 my back started to hurt so bad after basketball that I had to give it up, our oldest guy is going to be 89 in August and he’s still playing and loving it, it’s a lot easier on your joints."

Miller is 63-years-old and was introduced to the sport five years ago by friends of his who were runners, like he is. What started as a game he played a couple of times a week has become an obsession. 

"The more I played it the more I liked it, and I play everyday now if I can," he said.

It fills a competitive void that the life-long athlete has always craved. 

"I’m competitive, whether I win or lose, I don’t keep track," he said. "It’s just getting people involved in the game, having fun and being active."

But it's about more than just keeping the body in good physical shape, he said. Pickleball is a sport, with fast volleys and strategic ball placement, that challenges the body as much as the mind.

"It keeps your mind sharp too, pickleball is as much mental as it is physical," he said. "In tennis the best athletes are going to win every time. I’ve played against people who come out and are 75-years-old and not very athletic and beat me, I wonder ‘how’d they do that?’ Well they out-thought me."

Pickleball wasn't the only sport that was on display as part of the Senior Games Tuesday. At West Gymnasium athletes competed in a free-throw shooting contest, bean-bag throwing contest and a shooting contest from different spots on the basketball court.

Two brothers cleaned up nicely in the first full day of competition. Rey and Ruben Martinez won three gold medals each, in those three events at West Gymnasium.

"I do it to stay active, stay healthy, it keeps you young at heart," Rey, who is 56-years-old, said. "They always say a number is just a number, it depends what you do. When you turn 50 everyone thinks you’re done, and I don’t think I’m done."

Ruben, who is 54-years-old, is in the 50-54-years-old age group while Rey is one age group above. The competitive brothers joked about how only one of them will be able to collect the medals next year when they're in the same division.

Combined they have 50 years of United States military experience, Rey serving 28 years and Ruben serving 22.

"Even if you have a disability you shouldn’t let it hold you back from doing things," Ruben said. "Don’t make it worse, but get out there and do it. You’ve got to get off the couch and go do it."

He would know, the veteran is 90 percent disabled due to problems in his hips, back and surgeries on his shoulders forced him to retire four years ago.

Although he said there are some days where he feels like staying on the couch all day, he feels better on the days when he is able to get out and do something.

"We have aches and pains but I don’t sit there and say I’m old," he said. "People think that they can’t do it. Even if you’re shooting free throws (during the Senior Games) and you make 5-out-of-25, you’re still getting out here to move around."

The brothers have been participating in the Senior Games for three years, Rey is expecting to compete in eight or nine events throughout the week while Ruben said he will compete in six.

Don Walker has both of them beat. This year marks the 30th Senior Games he'll compete in. At 80-years-old, he competed in basketball, pickleball and the bean-bag toss Tuesday and will compete in the horseshoes today.

The former University of South Dakota basketball player, from 1960-64, said the games offer a competitive outlet for him and a way to stay in shape. He hopes to participate for as long as he can.

"I’ve been doing this for years so it’s something that keeps you active, you have to train, so health-wise it’s good," he said. "You have a lot of older people who are trying to stay active and living longer because of their activity."

The games continue through Friday with horseshoes at 9 a.m. at Sioux Park tomorrow as well as table tennis at 1 p.m. at the CLAC, pickleball singles at CLAC at 1 p.m. and an athletes picnic at the Old Storybook Island Shelter at 5 p.m.

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Contact Geoff Preston at geoffrey.preston@rapidcityjournal.com

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.