Saturday, April 30, 2016

Funny name can’t dissuade pickleball’s loyal following

Published April 29, 2016 -

A little-known sport with a funny name, pickleball inspires a passionate following. Just look around the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships at East Naples Community Park this week.

Nearly 1,000 players have descended on Southwest Florida from all over the country for what is the sport’s largest tournament ever. It’s not only people in town, but entire pickleball clubs that travel nationwide to compete.

Groups from Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana, Virginia and Utah popped their tents and flew their flags in East Naples Community Park on Friday. The clubs set up lawn chairs and dipped into coolers between the hundreds of skill-level matches during Day 3 of the U.S. Open.

“We all love the game,” said Mike Murphy, 61, who traveled with a group of six from Cleveland, Ohio. “We love the competition, and you need to travel to play the better players.”

While they came from all around to test each other, Sheena Maclean-Bell likely traveled the farthest to seek out top competition. The 39-year-old tennis coach crossed an ocean to be in Naples this week.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Published April 26, 2016 -

NAPLES, FLA., APRIL 25, 2016 – Eight hundred and thirty-five athletes will compete on 47 courts at East Naples Community Park in Naples, Fla. April 27 through May 1 for prestige and $25,000 in prize money in the first-ever U.S. Open Pickleball Championships while over 3,000 fans descend on the area, filling hotel rooms and RV parks in advance of the courtside action.

Pickleball is America’s fastest growing recreational sport and Collier County tourism officials and the pickleball championship’s promoters hope to make Naples and Collier County “ground zero” for pickleball, now played by more than 2.5 million people worldwide. The tournament agreement with the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau extends three years through 2018.

“The pickleball championship event brings national and worldwide attention to greater Naples and Collier County as a community that supports healthy lifestyles and offers a warm welcome and plenty of amenities for fans of this fast-growing sport,” said Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau.

There are registered players from 39 states and eight countries outside the U.S. - the U.K., the Czech Republic, Australia, Aruba, Canada, Japan, India and the island city-state of Singapore.

Thousands of spectators and players are expected to fill the adjacent U.S. Open Village hospitality zone, the U.S. Open Expo vendor and sponsor tradeshow, and fill the 700 ticketed stadium seats at the Zing Zang Championship Court where pro pickleball players will battle it out for $25,000 in prize money. Ticket proceeds support the charities Pickleball For All (based in Collier County), the Macular Degeneration Partnership and the Conine Clubhouse at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital.

To open the tournament on Tuesday, April 26, a press conference and ribbon cutting is scheduled for 11:30 a.m., followed by a pro exhibition from Noon to 1 p.m. Following the pros, it’s Kids Day, with 75 local school children invited to learn the game. Open play and adult clinics begin at 3 p.m. The full tournament schedule gets underway on Wednesday with 2,100 matches played over a five day period. The tournament schedule is available online at

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pickleball: 21-year-old Kyle Yates of Fort Myers bringing national game to U.S. Open in Naples

Published April 23, 2016 -

For someone who had never heard of pickleball, Kyle Yates sure took to the sport quickly.

The first time Yates entered a national tournament, he walked out with a gold medal the same day. Just two years later, the 21-year-old Fort Myers native is one of the best pickleball players in the country.

At the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships, starting Wednesday at East Naples Community Park, Yates hopes to take home the tournament's top prize and the winner's check. One of the youngest players on the national circuit, he's also hoping to show the local crowd that pickleball isn't just for retirees.

"Pickleball gets a bad rap," Yates said. "When I started playing (nationally), I realized it wasn't an old person's game. The guys I play against are in their mid-20s and former college tennis players."

Yates has won more than a dozen titles at pickleball tournaments from California to the Midwest to the East Coast, all before he could crack a cold adult beverage to celebrate. Yates turned 21 just last week.

For once, Yates won't have to get on a plane or drive overnight to get to a national event. With more than 800 players, the U.S. Open in Naples is the biggest organized pickleball tournament is the sport's history. Yates expects to be on center stage just down the road from his hometown.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sun City residents organize pickleball tournament

Published April 20, 2016 -

The Low Country Pickleball Classic was held over the weekend in Sun City and the University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Hilton Head Gateway campus.

More than 200 players took part in the event, including 57 locals. The round-robin format allowed each team to play four to five competitive matches, tournament director Reuben Oder said.

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Sunday, April 17, 2016

East Naples (FL) Hosts Inaugural Pickleball Championship

Published April 17, 2016 -

The U.S. Open Pickleball Championships was founded by racquet sport professionals and life long athletes, Terri Graham and Chris Evon. Graham and Evon spent over two decades working for Wilson Sporting Goods in Chicago, where Graham was the Business Director for indoor racquet sports and spearheaded racquetball, squash, badminton, platform tennis and most recently, you guessed it, pickleball!

The two recognized the time was right for a world-class international pickleball event and in 2014 they started Spirit Promotions, LLC to organize the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships. To their delight, these Marco Island part time residents needed to look no further than neighboring Naples for the perfect venue. In January 2015 Collier County CVB signed on for a three-year commitment to host the tournament.

Donna Fiala, Collier County Commissioner says, “East Naples is the fastest growing community in Collier County. Hosting the fastest growing sport in America seemed like the perfect fit! We are committed to investing into this event and into the park to make it the best place for people to play! Kids, parents and grandparents are learning the game. It’s great for families and great for the community. We look forward to being a part of this event for many years to come.”

Graham and Evon teamed up with the local USA Pickleball Association District Ambassador, Jim Ludwig, and the three set to work in early 2015 to organize a world class sporting event. Ludwig is equally passionate about pickleball and founded the nonprofit “Pickleball for All” to introduce the sport to every school in Collier County and beyond. “The U.S. Open Pickleball Championships has opened doors to not only help us grow this charity, but to help us make Naples the pickleball mecca of the world!” says Ludwig.

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Fun sport, funnier name: Pickleball enthusiasts looking forward to inaugural championship coming to

Published April 14, 2016 -

Richard Nadeau was an avid tennis player for more than 20 years.

The Toronto native and part-time Naples resident had a number of back surgeries and couldn't effectively execute the overhead serving motion in tennis that had once come easily.

In a pickle, he turned to a sport with a peculiar name. Pickleball, a racquet sport blending elements of tennis, ping pong and badminton, is rapidly gaining popularity throughout the United States. Naples will soon be the sport's epicenter, with the first U.S. Open Pickleball Championships set for April 26 through May 1 at East Naples Community Park.

Nadeau, 63, said he's been playing pickleball since last January and can't get enough of it.

"I enjoyed tennis, but I've found pickleball to be much more addictive and fun," Nadeau said. "In tennis, if you have a really big serve, the rallies are short. You see some pros crank up a serve to 135 miles per hour and just blow the other guy off the court. In pickleball, the game is structured in such a way, that you have to rally. There's a tremendous amount of strategy involved."

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Atlantic South Regional Tournament

Congratulations to Regional Director Karen Parrish on another successful tournament!  The tournament was held this past weekend at the Mobile Tennis Center in Alabama.  The weather was beautiful and the venue was super.  Sixteen temporary Pickleball courts were set up on 8 of the center's 60 tennis courts.

185 players from 18 states played 344 matches.  There were 75 mixed doubles teams, 45 men's doubles teams, 36 women's doubles teams, 30 men's singles players, and 15 women's singles players.  The matches ran without a hitch under the management of Pickleball Tournaments (Melissa McCurley).  Spectators enjoyed seeing some fierce battles on the courts.

Referees got to experience calling the matches while sitting in the tall chairs used by tennis chair umpires.  What a different perspective!

The sponsors supported the event in grand style.  Paddletek, Pickleball Rocks, Pickleball Up, Engage Pickleball, WhipperSnapper, and Pro-Lite Sports had extensive displays of their products for all the Pickleball enthusiasts to peruse and purchase. 

In addition to all the great play, Joe Borrelli, District Ambassador for North Carolina Coastal Plains, received the 2016 Pickleball Pioneer Award.  Joe has done a phenomenal job of growing the sport in North Carolina.  Although Joe was unable to attend the tournament, he made an appearance by FaceTime at the reception on Thursday evening.

A BIG THANK YOU to all the volunteers who helped make this tournament so impressive!

CLICK HERE for the tournament results.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Local pickleball players trying to find place for burgeoning sport

Published April 8, 2016 -

The sport of pickleball has grown rapidly throughout the nation in recent years, and Cherokee County (GA) has not been exempt from that trend.

The Earley family’s farm has emerged as the area’s destination for top players, while neighborhood clubs have developed for beginners in communities such as Lake Arrowhead and Harmony on the Lakes.

However, with the rise of the sport — particularly popular with senior citizens — there has been a divide between those who strictly want to play recreationally and those who want more competition.

“There are really two groups of pickleball players,” Chip Hullender said. “There are people who want to come out for the fun, exercise and social aspects of it, but there’s another group who really are a little more competitive.”

CLICK HERE to read more.