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Pickleball popularity taking off across Missoula, Western Montana

Pickleball
Pickleball
Pickleball
Dave Cook
Shane Vannatta
Posted at 2:49 PM, Mar 01, 2023

MISSOULA - Some might say you can’t buy happiness, but you can play pickleball, and that’s close.

It’s a sport that’s taking over the many area courts providing community, friendships, competition, and as much sweat as you want to give it.

Most days at the Missoula Lifelong Learning Center, you’ll find Dave Cook instructing a new class of pickleball players.

Dave Cook
Instructor Daver Cook says pickleball has been gaining popularity in recent years. "Any summer day if you drive by pickleball courts, there will be 20 times the people that are at the tennis courts.”

The course catalog is filled with a lot of pickleball class offerings which left us wondering, why so many?

“It's been the fastest-growing sport in the country for years,” Cook noted. “Any summer day if you drive by pickleball courts, there will be 20 times the people that are at the tennis courts.”

So why is it called pickleball?

“Allegedly in the 1960’s back in Washington, a senator started playing in his yard and his dog was named Pickles...allegedly,” Cook said.

Pickleball
Some might say you can’t buy happiness, but you can play pickleball, and that’s close.

He started the Missoula program about seven years ago by teaching players the basics and the nuances of the racquet sport.

Cook teaches the skills of strategic ball placement and what “staying out of the kitchen” means and if a dink is good. Spoiler alert: It is.

“Typically, here at adult ed, we have classes of ten. And every time we have a new class, I bet seven or eight will seek pickleball in a ravenous way. People want to play this sport more than any other sport I have been around. And I do not know why.” - Pickleball instructor Dave Cook

“It's good exercise. It’s not as strenuous as say, tennis, or something like that because you aren’t moving as far across courts,” explained player Linda Rayfield. “So, for someone who needs a little less strenuous game, this is the perfect game for them.”

We also headed out to meet up with Shane Vannatta, who is president of the nonprofit 406 Pickleball.

Shane Vannatta
406 Pickleball President Shane Vannatta says the group’s goal is to bridge the space between for-profit, nonprofit and government groups providing space for the sport.

“406 Pickleball Is very new. It started in late April, or early May. And really it was a desire to organize the pickleball community,” Vannatta said. “It is exploding in the Missoula area and frankly in all of western Montana. It's exploding.”

406 Pickleball's goal is to bridge the space between for-profit, nonprofit and government groups providing space for the sport.

“A fundamental objective of our organization is to make sure people can find places to play, and there are different ways of playing. There’s tournament play, there’s league play, there’s rec play, there’s more aggressive play...there are hundreds of individuals coming into pickleball about every three to four months. Because they’re picking it up, they’re learning it and they love it, they get addicted like me." - 406 Pickleball President Shane Vannatta.

Perhaps the best part of the sport is that young or old, fit or not, athletic or not, anyone can relish playing pickleball.

“It’s easy to pick up but somewhat difficult to master,” said.

Pickleball
Perhaps the best part of the sport is that young or old, fit or not, athletic or not, anyone can relish playing pickleball.

“And I think it’s folks that think there’s no other way to be competitive and feed the fire. with pickleball, they can be competitive even if they can’t move around as quickly anymore. It’s taken off more than any sport I’ve ever seen," Cook concluded.