CHEYENNE – Jayne Smith was looking for an incentive for students at the Meadowlark Academy when she unearthed some pickleball paddles.

Students at the residential treatment facility don’t make it off the grounds often, so Smith told them she would take them to play at the Cheyenne Family YMCA if they took care of their responsibilities while learning to play.

Smith played with her students at the Meadowlark facility east of Cheyenne, but merely watched them the first few times they went to the YMCA.

“The first time I took the kids there, they got their butts kicked,” she said with a laugh. “They walked out of there saying, ‘Dang, those people were pretty good.’”

Eventually, Smith decided to join her students on the court during those YMCA visits. She has been hooked on the tennis-like sport ever since.

Smith will play in mixed doubles at the Wyoming Senior Olympics on Saturday at Laramie County Community College.

“I’m a tennis player, and that’s a great sport, but it’s tougher for some people to do,” Smith said. “People like to play tennis, but they might not be able to because it requires a lot more movement than pickleball.

“You can pick this up right away. It’s much easier to work. The paddle is smaller and the court is smaller. It’s a wonderful sport, and it’s growing so much.”

There are nearly 400 entrants in this year’s Senior Games. More than 100 of them are participating in pickleball, which also has men’s and women’s singles and doubles divisions.

Smith is a regular at morning pickleball sessions at Cheyenne’s Martin Luther King Jr. Park. Those courts off Missile Drive are so packed that there are two sessions. Games are shortened from the first to 11 points to a mere 11 minutes to make sure all players see ample court time.

“The people are so nice, and there’s so much camaraderie,” Smith said.

Ron Vigil said he also likes the social aspect of the pickleball community. He said he has always loved playing racquetball and tennis. He was the No. 1 singles player on LCCC’s tennis squad that qualified for the national tournament in the early 1980s.

He had often seen groups of pickleball players while he played racquetball at the YMCA. Curiosity got the best of Vigil, and he decided to give the sport a try. He said he enjoyed that initial foray into the sport enough that he bought a pair of wooden paddles he stumbled upon at a home improvement store.

“Everyone had these fancy graphite paddles, and I was playing with a pair of wooden ones I bought for $12,” said Vigil, who is a retired elementary school teacher. “I was playing with archaic equipment and doing well with it. I fell in love with the sport.

“As someone who grew up playing racket sports, it was right in my wheelhouse. It was the same sport, just with a different ball.”

Vigil won the men’s 55-59-year-old division at the Wyoming Senior Olympics on Thursday afternoon, getting the better of Clay Muirhead and Gary Schoene. He plays with both men regularly.

“I told those guys to kick my butt,” Vigil said. “I want them to push me. We’re all friends, we all play together and have fun, but we’re still competitive.

“This is great exercise, but I really like the fellowship.”

Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at jjohnke@wyosports.net or 307-633-3137. Follow him on Twitter at @jjohnke.

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