How Pickleball Took Over Springfield, Missouri

In the last few years, pickleball has taken over Springfield. We took a deep dive by talking to the local enthusiasts and finding out where you can play.

by Tessa Cooper

Mar 2024

Pickleball court in Springfield MO
Photo by Josh Kingham

Plop! Whack! Thwack! In a pickleball game, the sound of ball-to-paddle-to-pavement is a bit like a metronome that progressively speeds up as the play intensifies. To a pickleball player, it’s a meditative song that helps them descend into a state of flow. In those few moments on the court, their attention is fully focused on the ball, and nothing else matters.

These are just a few observations gleaned from a morning spent watching Debbie Grega and her friends play one of their routine games on her very own backyard court surfaced by Gerald Perry Tennis Company (417-894-9024). Before picking up pickleball, all five of these women were strangers. “It just sort of happened organically over time,” Grega says. “We all met in open play or at tournaments and found that we were of similar playing levels. Now, we try to get together weekly to play. Our games are always very competitive.”

Pickleball is an indoor and outdoor sport that combines elements of several other racquet and paddle sports, including tennis, badminton and ping pong. All you need to play is a court, a partner, a paddle and a pickleball, which is a plastic ball that resembles a wiffle ball but is slightly heavier.

According to a 2023 report by The Association of Pickleball Professionals, at least 48.3 million American adults have played pickleball at least once in the past year. That accounts for close to 19% of the total adult population. The rapid increase brings a few growing pains, and any local pickleball player knows the sport is also a practice in patience. On extra busy days at a court, players reserve their turn by lining up their paddles. It's not uncommon for there to be just as many people waiting to play as there are on the courts during peak times.

“Pickleball is growing so quickly it has become hard to find a spot to have your own group of 4 or 5 play without interruption,” Grega says. “Meador Park is great for open play and meeting new people, but since so many people want to play, you often have to play one game and then rotate off the court so others have a turn. Having my own court has allowed us to play for hours at a time.”

But unless you’ve invested in your own court like Grega, pickleball really isn’t a casual backyard sport like badminton. In fact, that’s a misconception that Matt Battaglia, current president of the Ozarks Pickleball Club, previously had when his neighbor introduced him to the sport a little more than five years ago. “When I first started out, I thought it merely was a backyard-type game played recreationally,” he says. “I didn’t even realize it was a popular sport that people played until I plugged into the community. It’s not uncommon for people to play two to five times per week.”

Man playing pickleball in Springfield MO
Woman playing pickleball on outdoor court in Springfield MO
Photos by Josh Kingham (left), Todd Dundenhoffer (right) Avid pickleballer Debbie Grega (right) enjoys playing in pickleball tournaments at Meador Park. She also has a court of her own in her backyard where she and friends try to get together weekly. Their pickleball games often wind up being even more competitive than official tournament games.

Springfield's Pickleball Craze by the Numbers

The Springfield-Greene County Park Board has been offering pickleball programs at family centers since 2013. Today, there are dedicated pickleball courts at 10 locations: five of which are indoor and five outdoor.

In 2017, the Park Board converted six of the courts at Meador Park to pickleball courts in response to the growing popularity. As of 2023, all 12 of the courts at Meador Park are now pickleball courts.

The 2022 and 2023 Queen City Open tournaments, presented by Springfield Roofing Systems, Ozarks Pickleball Club and the Park Board, raised close to $100,000 collectively for pickleball improvements at Springfield-Greene County Park Board facilities.

In 2023, Springfield hosted the USA Pickleball Middle States Regional at Cooper Tennis Complex. This event had 425 participants and an estimated economic spending of $400,000. Springfield is hosting the event again in 2024, and the Greater Springfield Area Sports Commission is anticipating even more participants in 2024.

Another misconception about pickleball is that it is a new sport; in reality, it’s been around since the late 1960s. So what’s with the seemingly overnight boom? Although pickleball started to rise in popularity slightly before the pandemic, it really took off post-pandemic after the world emerged from isolation. One common theme that arose from our interviews with players is how pickleball is a social sport, so it’s a great way to meet people and make new friends.

As for why the sport has been catching on so quickly, Battaglia has a few theories. “There’s a couple of things that make it so popular and addictive,” Battaglia says. “The first is that anyone can play. It’s very accessible for any age, any body type and any gender. It’s one of the only true sports that you could see anybody play with anybody. It’s not uncommon to have 70-year-olds playing with 20-year-olds or a husband and wife playing together…The second thing is that it’s relatively easy to pick up. Within a couple of times of playing, you can be adequate enough to hit the ball back and forth several times.” Battaglia notes that even beginners can maintain a good back-and-forth momentum.

There are a few factors that make pickleball a good socializing sport. The small court size allows for conversation, and people often play the sport in doubles, which includes four players. “The culture of pickleball is very inclusive,” Battaglia says. “When you go to designated open play, you’re expected to rotate in every game and play with different people.”

Indoor pickleball court in Springfield MO
People playing indoor pickleball in Springfield MO
Photo by Josh Kingham (left), courtesy Matt Battaglia (right) Matt Battaglia, current president of the Ozarks Pickleball Club, plays with his wife and friends on a weekly basis (right). Battaglia first started playing more than five years ago and says one of his favorite things about the sport is its inclusivity. People of all ages and activity levels can easily learn to play and maintain a good back-and-forth momentum.

Cary Prater first picked up a pickleball paddle about two years ago and now plays around five times a week. He’s seen firsthand how the sport has positively changed lives. “Pickleball is giving people a sense of community again,” he says. “I have introduced people to play, and it has completely changed their social life in more ways than one. Some of them were depressed and felt isolated, and now they’re finding fulfillment in a community of people who enjoy doing the same thing…It really helped me through a troubling time when I was going through personal issues. It helped me get out and make great friends that I can call to go play pickleball at any time. It’s just been a really good feeling to have friends again and not be so isolated sitting at home on social media.”

The social aspect of pickleball has also proven itself useful in the local business scene in a way similar to golf. Sophie Pierpoint, vice president and business development officer at OMB Bank, routinely takes clients to play pickleball. Furthermore, the bank even sponsors pickleball tournaments throughout the Springfield area.

Pierpoint has been a longtime friend of Jackie Stiles, former WNBA player and current owner of NexGen Fitness, and Stiles introduced her to the sport in 2020. When Pierpoint started at OMB, pickleball was starting to take off locally. She noticed that multi-generations of people play pickleball together and realized that it could be useful in connecting with potential bank customers of all ages and walks of life.

“I often play with customers at different places in and around Springfield to keep building good relationships with them,” Pierpoint says. “I love how playing pickleball recreationally allows a way to naturally meet new people and how it's centered around exercise and social engagement. The time between games is great for socializing and networking. I’ve found the pickleball community to be very kind, caring and committed. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people over the last 1.5 years who have become customers and friends… I feel like through sports, you gain another level of trust with people.”

People on pickleball court in Springfield MO
Photo by Josh Kingham (left), Brandon Alms (right) In January 2023, someone approached RaNay Riffe’s father about purchasing the warehouse. So in light of the sale, Riffe (pictured right) built Pickleball Warehouse 2.0 next to the original location in October 2023; it features seven courts.

There are dozens of local places to play pickleball, but one major hotspot is Pickleball Warehouse in Marionville, where owner RaNay Riffe sits at the helm and hosts five separate pickleball leagues. Riffe started playing pickleball almost nine years ago, but just a few months in, she was fully committed to the sport. “I was a runner at the time and worked out at the gym a lot,” she recalls. “Throughout the course of six months, I dropped gym membership, quit running 5Ks and just focused on pickleball.” Within two years, she had already advanced to a 5.0 skill level, which is a pro skill level rating set by USA Pickleball, the governing body for the sport.

Riffe opened the original location of Pickleball Warehouse in an old warehouse in Marionville owned by her father. In 2019, the warehouse wasn’t currently in use, so her family decided to convert it into their personal gym, complete with volleyball and pickleball courts. Riffe was hosting pickleball lessons in Springfield and Republic at the time but rarely at the family’s private gym. But come 2020, when everything shut down, that changed. “People started calling and texting me saying, ‘We just want to play pickleball. We want lessons but everywhere is closed. What do we do?’” Riffe remembers. “And I said, 'Well, if you want to drive to Marionville, I have a gym, and I can do lessons with you if you’re willing to come down here.’ People jumped all over it because they were desperate. That’s really what developed the business. It wasn’t something we did with the intent of making it a business.”

RaNay Riffe
Photo by Brandon Alms417 Magazine spoke to RaNay Riffe about the pickleball craze taking over Springfield, Missouri in 2022. Purchase Photo

Q&A with Pickleball Pro RaNay Riffe

By Colin Shea Denniston
Pro-level player and certified pickleball instructor at Pickleball Warehouse, RaNay Riffe shares how she discovered the popular sport.
Originally published October 2022.

417 Magazine: How did you get started with Pickleball?
RaNay Riffe: “I started playing seven and a half years ago in Republic. Our rec center in town started having open-play pickleball. They were kind of the first place around this area to do that. So, my husband and I—I had never played, I had never even heard of it—started playing. I was instantly addicted like everybody else that plays. I played my first tournament six months after that, and two years later, I made it to a 5.0 level, which is a pro-level player.”

417: How have you seen pickleball grow over the past 5 to 10 years?
R.R.: “It’s been insane. Like I said, when I first started seven years ago, nobody had any clue what it was. There was one tournament in the area, and it was in Branson once a year. Now you can pretty much play a tournament every weekend within a one- or two-hour radius. Even just within the area, there are places to play every day of the week now. There are so many different facilities to go to—it’s popping up everywhere. And five years ago, that wasn’t happening at all.”

417: The name is kind of funny. Do you know the origin or history behind it?
R.R.: “There are a couple different theories about that. The biggest one is that a guy invented it in his backyard with his kids and whenever the ball would go off, his dog would go get the ball. And his dog’s name was Pickles. That is the one that we’ve heard the most. And I think that was in like the 1960s or something. It’s been around for a long time.”

417: Why do you think people like it so much and why is it currently on the rise?
R.R.: “It’s very easy to learn. Even if you have no athletic ability or background whatsoever, it’s very easy to pick up a paddle and learn to hit the ball. My mom has never been an athlete in her life, and she just loves the sport—plays multiple times a week for hours. And there are so many different people from so many different levels and age groups. It’s easy to plug into groups of your own level, and just be able to play and have fun.”

417: What’s your favorite part about playing pickleball?
R.R.: “It’s always fun to hear people say, ‘Oh I thought that was an old people sport.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, well you want to come play with my group? Because it is not old people, and it is not slow!’ You just develop some really great friendships with people from all over. And when you’re playing tournaments, you see the same people from all different areas, so it’s fun to reconnect with people from all over.”

417: Pickleball in the Olympics. Could you ever see this happening?
“Definitely. I’m kind of surprised it hasn’t already happened. I know there’s talk about it.”

Now, Pickleball Warehouse is Riffe’s full-time job, and running the business is a family affair. Her husband is a school teacher, but he fills his summers off by teaching pickleball classes and running tournaments alongside Riffe. Their 13-year-old son, who has almost reached pro-level, also loves assisting Riffe with classes and teaching private lessons, while their 11-year-old daughter helps run the on-site smoothie bar and designs fliers for the business.

Doubles, which involves two players on each side of the court, is the most common way to play the sport. Riffe got her start playing singles, which is a one-on-one match.

“Singles is a very different game,” she says. “It requires a different strategy, and it’s a whole other level of cardio. [Singles] was all I did for the first year. I played several tournaments, and I won every tournament I played in. So my skill level just kind of kept rising, and I was being approached everywhere. People wanted me to play doubles, and I was very resistant for a long time but finally went to doubles. Now I totally prefer doubles. I still love to play singles, but doubles is so much fun.”

While Riffe sees a variety of ages come to Pickleball Warehouse, one major demographic is retirees. David Gibbs first started playing pickleball in 2019, and he instantly became hooked. He was still working at the time, so he had limited time to spend on the court. But once he retired and the pandemic passed, he was able to start playing two times a week. “Pickleball is a game you can start playing at any age,” Gibbs says. “Everyone is welcoming and friendly, and the better players are always willing to help and include new players.”

Mary Kay Hostler is another player who first started when she was nearing retirement in 2017, and her only regret is that she didn’t start sooner. Now, she’s known by many locally as “The Queen of Pickleball.” Hostler loves helping beginners of all ages learn the sport,  but especially her peers. One thing she likes to remind her students is that “no ball is worth the fall.” However, she notes that the physical and mental health benefits far outweigh the fall risk. “I have met so many people, and my social world has grown immensely because of pickleball,” she says. “I think everybody who routinely plays would tell you that part of the reason why they play is the circle of friends that they made and the relationships that have grown out of the sport.”

While retirees may be the demographic with the most time to play, they’re not the most common demographic of players. USA Pickleball reports that the average age of players is just under 35 years old. However, there are no defined age limits, and Pickleball Warehouse sees children as young as eight years old playing.

“There are so many young people that are up and coming and playing this now,” Prater says. “To see the young people get so involved and become so good at it blows my mind.”

While many people play recreationally, there is a growing professional scene. In fact, Drury University is adding a non-NCAA co-ed pickleball team to its sports offerings beginning in the fall 2024 semester. Drury’s pickleball team won’t simply be a club sport or student organization. Drury will be the first college to have an official pickleball team with a staff coach. Plus, students will be able to receive pickleball scholarships. The university is currently adding the final touches to Panther Pad, an outdoor recreation center complete with six pickleball courts plus a tennis and a basketball court.

Jarrod Smith playing pickleball
Indoor pickleball court with people playing pickleball in Springfield MO
Photo courtesy Jarrod Smith (left), by Josh Kingham (right) Jarrod Smith (left) is Drury University’s tennis coach and will be the coach for the pickleball team. Drury is the first university to have an official pickleball team with a staff coach. Students will be able to receive pickleball scholarships and compete on their outdoor recreation center, Panther Pad, which includes six courts. Smith is the perfect person to coach the pickleball team; he’s won in multiple national championships and is currently ranked at a 5.5 skill level.

Get the Gear

If you’re ready to try out the pickleball life for yourself, consider supporting a local business when buying your equipment. Hexa is a Hollister-based company that makes pickleball paddles and distributes them globally. “In the pickleball paddle universe where there is a lot of competition, Hexa may initially seem like standard equipment,” explains Roberto Camara, Hexa’s owner. “However, our focus is not on hidden secrets or groundbreaking technology; rather, it revolves around the craftsmanship and attention to detail we pour into each paddle.”

Camara lives in Hollister but is currently collaborating with individuals in Brazil to establish the Brazilian Confederation of Pickleball. In 2017, he began making visits to Brazil to help introduce the sport to the country. At that time, he was serving as an ambassador for the International Federation of Pickleball, but the decision to venture into Brazil was a self-initiated and self-funded endeavor. “While spreading awareness about pickleball [in Brazil], we noticed that people lacked the necessary equipment to continue playing the sport,” he says. Initially, he started importing paddles from what are now Hexa’s competitors and sold them in Brazil. The demand was enough for Camara to consider manufacturing his own paddles rather than reselling equipment. While the company originally focused on selling paddles exclusively in Brazil, interest grew stateside when people noticed Camara playing with his Hexa paddle. Now, the company’s main markets are both the U.S. and Brazil.

Jarrod  Smith, who also coaches the college’s tennis team, will be leading the team. “My dream has always been to start up a college pickleball team,” Smith says. “It’s what I’m really passionate about right now. I’m passionate about the people, I’m passionate about the sport and I’m passionate about this community. I just felt like this is where I needed to be, and this is my way of giving back to pickleball.”

Smith began playing pickleball nearly a decade ago. He's currently at a 5.5 skill level but rose to 5.8 at one point. In 2021, he won the first-ever indoor mixed doubles National Championship and the Men's 35 and Over National Championship. “It was an amazing experience,” Smith says. “There were thousands of people competing and every year it gets bigger and bigger.”

Battaglia encourages anyone interested in pickleball to request to join Ozark Pickleball Club’s private Facebook group. Here, local pickleball players share memes about the quirks of pickleball life, answer questions for beginners, crowdsource information on new places to play and spread the news on upcoming tournaments. Ozarks Pickleball Club also partners with several local municipalities to help grow pickleball. Recently, the club helped host an annual tournament titled The Queen City Open, which has raised close to $100,000 to help fund future renovations and additions to the courts at Springfield-Greene County parks. In 2022, the board was able to expand the number of pickleball courts at Meador Park from six to 12, in part thanks to this event.

“As much as [pickleball] has grown the last five years, I think we're still just on the tip of the iceberg because it's just now catching on on college and high school campuses,” Battaglia says. “Look at what Drury is doing with starting a pickleball team and building six dedicated courts on campus. I think we're going to see it more and more in high schools as not just part of a P.E. class but actually an extracurricular sport that's offered. Locally, our club’s vision is to continue to work with local towns to build more courts and offer more pickleball programs. We’re going to continue to work with them to help grow the sport, publicly but also privately. We’re actively seeking sponsors and partners to build our own indoor facility because that’s what’s needed in the area.”

Where to Play Pickleball in Springfield and Southwest Missouri

Chances are, you don't live too far from a pickleball court. Whether you're interested in structured and serious play or more casual and laid-back, here's where you can master the art.

Casual Play

If you’re in it for more of the social aspect, here’s where you can bring a group of friends for a laid-back game on a whim.

Bolivar Recreation and Aquatics Center
1710 W. Broadway, Bolivar
A day pass to the Bolivar Recreation and Aquatics Center costs $5. See the front desk for a pickleball net.

Classic's Yard
1900 W. Sunset St., Springfield
Classic’s Yard is an indoor social sport and game center located at Classic Rock Coffee. The site’s four pickleball courts are smaller than regulation size but are still perfect for casual and social games. Entry is $5 for ages 21 and up and $10 for under age 21. Minors must be accompanied by an adult.

Cribbs Family Youth Park
410 W. Madison St., Bolivar
The nonprofit Friends of Bolivar Parks recently fundraised enough money to help the City of Bolivar install three new pickleball courts at Cribbs Family Youth Park. The courts officially opened in November 2023.

Fremont Hills Country Club
1953 Fremont Hills Dr., Nixa
There are six pickleball courts available for use by members.

Hickory Hills Country Club
3909 E. Cherry St., Springfield
The pickleball courts at Hickory Hills Country Club are available daily for open play for members. You can also book one of the club’s courts ahead of time online.

Springfield-Greene County Park Board Outdoor Parks
You’ll find outdoor pickleball courts at five parks: Meador, Horace Mann, Nichols, Westport and Zagonyi. Meador Park is an especially popular pickleball hotspot with 12 pickleball courts.

Sycamore Creek Family Ranch
2657 Sunset Inn Rd., Branson
Sycamore Creek Family Ranch is a venue in Branson that hosts community events year-round, such as barn dances and pizza nights. There’s an outdoor pickleball court covered by a pavilion, so bring your ball sand paddles on your next visit!

Twin Oaks Country Club
1020 E. Republic Rd., Springfield
There are eight dedicated pickleball courts available to members.

Structured Play

These local pickleball haunts are where you'll find open play, lessons and leagues that range from beginner to competitive.

Branson RecPlex
1501 Branson Hills Pkwy., Branson
The Branson RecPlex has six indoor courts with various open play times. The drop-in fee is $5 or $35 for a punch pass for 10 visits.

Chesterfield Family Center
2511 W. Republic Rd., Springfield
Indoor pen play takes place Thurs., 6–8 p.m. and Sat., 4:30–7:30 p.m. It is free for members but costs $7–35 for non-members.

Dan Kinney Center
2701 S. Blackman Rd., Springfield
Indoor open play takes place Tues. and Thurs., 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and Mon., Wed., Fri., 2:30–4:30 p.m.; Fri., 7–9:30 p.m. It is free for members but costs $6–35 for non-members.

Doling Family Center
301 E. Talmage, Springfield
Indoor open play takes place Wed., Fri., Sat. 8–10 a.m.; Thurs., 12:30–3:30 p.m.  It is free for members but costs $7–35 for non-members.  

Eiserman Park
201 Compton Drive, Branson
Eiserman Park is home to three outdoor lighted courts available, and there is no fee to play. Open play times vary, check the Branson Parks and Recreation calendar.

Fieldhouse Sportscenter
2235 W. Kingsley St., Springfield
Matt Battaglia hosts monthly pickleball clinics at The Fieldhouse. Pickleballs are provided, but participants must bring their own paddles.

McDonald Arena at Missouri State University
850 S. Kings Ave., Springfield
There are three pickleball courts at McDonald Arena. Ozarks Pickleball Club hosts beginner to intermediate classes every Tuesday through April 10 from 5:30–8 p.m. for Missouri State students, employees and employee spouses.

Millwood Golf and Racquet Club
3700 E. Millwood Dr., Ozark
There are several pickleball courts available for use at Millwood Golf and Racquet Club. Each summer, the club hosts a pickleball activity series with tournaments and weekly leagues for members and non-members alike.

O’Reilly-Tefft Gymnasium
1408 E. Pythian, Springfield
Indoor open play at O’Reilly-Tefft Gymnasium takes place Mon. and Thurs., 8 a.m.–12 p.m. To get it, the cost is $35 for a 10-visit punch card or $5 for a single day pass.

Pat Jones YMCA
1901 E. Republic Rd.
The Pat Jones YMCA hosts open play pickleball on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. It is free for YMCA members, and a guest pass costs $12.

Pickleball Warehouse
515 W. Jonathan Dr., Marionville
Pickleball Warehouse is home to seven pickleball courts and hosts five pickleball leagues. You can also attend a monthly beginner class.

Republic Community Center
711 E. Miller Rd., Republic
The Republic Community Center hosts frequent pickleball doubles tournaments.

Schweitzer Church
2747 E. Sunshine St., Springfield
Schweitzer welcomes visitors to play three days a week from 6–8:30 p.m. Mon. and Tues. are reserved for intermediate players, but beginners are welcome on Sat.

Stalnecker Boys and Girls Club
1410 N. Fremont, Springfield
Open play takes place Mon.–Thurs. from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.. It costs $5 for a day pass or $45 for a 15-play punch card.

Pickleball Courts Coming Soon to Southwest Missouri

Loose Goose
1015 S. Grant, Springfield
In 2022, GDL Enterprises, LLC received city council approval for Loose Goose, and now the site is expanding. The developers have hopes of a higher-density development at the corner of Grand and Grant including pickleball courts, coffee, cocktails, office space and housing.

Panther Pad at Drury University
900 N. Benton Ave., Springfield
Drury University is working on the final touches to Panther Pad, an outdoor recreation center for Drury students, complete with six pickleball courts. It might just be ready to go by the time you read this.

The Pickle
3370 E. Montclair St., Springfield
With an opening date set for late summer, The Pickle will offer four year-round indoor pickleball courts with state-of-the-art flooring developed just for pickleball. Look for the new facility near Battlefield and Highway 65 in Springfield.

The Social Birdy
1250 Branson Hills Pkwy., Branson
The Social Birdy is an entertainment complex that is still in the construction phase in Branson. It will feature four pickleball courts plus an 18-hole putting golf course. At press time, they were planning an opening around mid-April.

Why Pickleball is the New “It” Sport

Written by Dayle Duggins
Originally published November 2017

Pickleball is poppin’. I open Snapchat and see friends playing—beer in hand—at bars that are built entirely around the sport. Others are playing with their grandparents while on vacation. Local country clubs are hopping aboard, too. When I realized that it was trending, I knew I had to try the sport. I had high hopes: pickles are pretty much my favorite food, grandmas can play the sport and, if I found the right venue, I could even get a little tipsy while exercising.

I called up my pal and former co-worker Dylan Whitaker, who had very aggressively picked up the sport as a hobby. I needed the scoop. Who plays pickleball? Where do people play? Who’s the best? I needed him to tell me everything, and he delivered. Dylan told me that RaNay Riffe was a pickleball star who would probably be tickled to show me the ropes. Quickly, I got in touch with her, and next thing I knew, I was scheduled to play pickleball with her for a few hours on a Friday morning. 


Upon researching the sport, I was saddened to learn that pickleball incorporates zero pickles. But relief swept over me when I found that the oddly named sport might have been inspired by a cocker spaniel named Pickles. What a great name. I already loved the game.

According to the United States of America Pickleball Association (USAPA), the paddle sport combines elements of tennis, badminton and pingpong and can be played indoors or outdoors on a badminton-sized court with a slightly modified tennis net. In the game, which is suitable for all ages and skill levels, a plastic ball with holes is volleyed back and forth between players.

Impressively, the number of places to play pickleball has doubled since 2010, according to USAPA. To find a spot near you, visit “You’re seeing cities that are converting tennis courts to pickleball courts or building their own pickleball courts,” says Mike Porter, Springfield’s USAPA ambassador. Most recently, Meador Park in Springfield converted six tennis courts into pickleball courts.

Riffe primarily plays in Republic. When she isn’t on the court, she’s a hairstylist in Springfield. “It’s horribly addicting,” Riffe says. “If you want to, there are places to play every day of the week.” She started out playing singles in 2015, got addicted, played a tournament in Branson and won. After trying out men’s and women’s doubles, she took up mixed doubles at the beginning of 2017. To develop her skills, she watched endless matches on YouTube, sat in the stands during high-level tournament matches and now plays about nine hours a week. After only two-and-a-half years of playing, she’s now a 5.0 according to USAPA—the highest ranking a player can get. According to Porter, there are only two five-star paddlers in southwest Missouri besides Riffe.

Group playng indoor pickleball
Photo by Brandon Alms


When I got to the Republic Community Center, it was easy to spot Riffe. She was adorably dressed and bounced right over to greet me. We introduced ourselves, she handed me a paddle and we hit the court. Our first opponents were two gentlemen who gave us a run for our money.

As we hit the ball, Riffe explained the game. During live play, I learned all about the kitchen, dinking, how to give a pickleball high-five and how serving works, which I really struggled to understand at first. Play was much faster and less leisurely than I expected because we played close to the net. We lost our first game, but I was pretty impressed with myself. I was smashing the ball over the net, diving to make returns and making pretty good serves. Riffe threw me in with the sharks. Her style of play is very aggressive and fast-paced, and I was loving every minute of it.

As we continued to play match after match, we won the majority of the games, and I was surprisingly breaking a sweat. Most of the people we played were older than us, but their skill level always surprised me. “It’s a fun sport because you can’t judge anybody by what they look like,” Riffe says. It’s true, but Riffe is an exception. If you look at her, you can tell she’s in shape. “It gives me the same cardio burn without running, which is huge.” Because Riffe plays two to three times a week for two to four hours, it’s her primary workout.


Three hours on the pickleball court flew by. I was sweaty and had finally figured out the serving rules, so I didn’t want to leave. The volleys were intense and required quick reflexes, but I got the hang of it quickly.

All of the pickleball players were very welcoming. They knew I was a newbie, so they went out of their way to make me feel welcome, give me a hard time every once in a while and compliment me on successful serves, dinks and smashes.

I’m looking forward to picking up the paddle again during the colder months. I think I might just bring along my own pickles.