Dave Thomas – USAPA Ambassador Growing Pickleball in Town of Riga, Churchville, New York

Dave Thomas – USAPA Ambassador Growing Pickleball in Town of Riga, Churchville, New York

Dave Thomas

Dave Thomas, USAPA Ambassador and Recreation Supervisor, The Town of Riga, N.Y.

Hello pickleball folks! My name is Dave Thomas and I have been involved with the wonderful game of pickleball since 1983-84. I found out about the game at the New York State Physical Education Conference in Syracuse, New York. I immediately knew that this was an activity that I wanted to introduce to my students. I taught it in my PE classes to children in Grades 3-6 from 1984 until 2005 when I retired. I adjusted my teaching style to the ages of these students. I figure that I taught it to at least 8,000+ students.

After retiring from teaching, I joined our local YMCA and noticed that they were offering a pickleball league. I was SO surprised! I signed up because I had never played with other adults; I just taught it. After starting to play I researched my new activity. I couldn’t believe how huge pickleball was in 2006.

I retired and secured a new post-retirement job as Recreation Supervisor for the Town of Riga in Churchville, NY. I put my name in with the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) and became a USAPA Ambassador for Rochester, New York—the very first one from this area. Within a week I was receiving emails from “snowbirds” inquiring about outdoor play once they returned. In 2006 there were only 2 pickleball courts in the area at the Westside YMCA on Elmgrove Road in Rochester. I knew we had to try and get others involved, so with the help of many folks we spread the word about pickleball. Thirteen years later, we have indoor & outdoor courts in just about every town in the Rochester, New York area. We’ve gone from 2 courts in 2006 to over 180 courts in 2019!

New Courts in Town of Riga

Recently, I contacted our New York state senator and asked him if he could support the tiny Village of Churchville, New York in the town of Riga by securing a $50.000 grant to build a 2-court venue. He wholeheartedly agreed, and the pictures you see are the result of this grant.

Before pickleball courts

Before pickleball courts

Town of Riga Highway Department Boxing Out the courts

Town of Riga Highway Department Boxing Out the courts

Town or Riga Highway Dept. rolling out gravel base

Town of Riga Highway Dept. rolling out gravel base

First layer of asphalt

First layer of asphalt

Putting second smooth coat of asphalt down

Putting second smooth coat of asphalt down

Cutting out for poles

Drilling holes for sleeve installation

Drilling holes for sleeve installation

Getting ready to cement

Getting ready to cement net post holes

Finished fencing for the court

Finished fencing for the court

Starting the Primer coat

Starting the Primer coat

Town of Riga "Super Seal Gang" that painted the courts! A terrific job!

Town of Riga “Super Seal Gang” that painted the courts! A terrific job!

Painting lines

This is how they paint the lines, with a spray can, then followed along with a roller.

Last November they put the final coat of paint on the courts but alas… it did not take as the sun did not shine and the snow ruined it! As soon as we were able to string together 3-4 sunny & 60 degree days, the company came out and repainted.

Poles installed, measured to correct height and ready for the nets

Poles installed, measured to correct height and ready for the nets

ready for the Grand Opening on June 26, 2019

Nets attached, tables in place and ready for the Grand Opening on June 26, 2019

New York State Senator Michael H. Ranzenhofer making the first official serve on the Town of Riga's Pickleball Complex.

New York State Senator Michael H. Ranzenhofer making the first official serve on the Town of Riga’s Pickleball Complex.

After our Grand Opening we were featured on Spectrum New’s “Your Morning Rochester” TV show, Wendy Mills was the host and we had a wonderful time bringing this facility and pickleball to the audience.

Thank you Dave for sharing your story about how you are growing pickleball in the Rochester New York region. Congratulations!

Unique Ideas for Pickleball Tournament Prizes

As pickleball’s popularity grows, more organizations have become willing to sponsor tournaments. This leads to the allure of prize money, which few players will turn down. While many groups would love to be able to offer similar rewards, what if you’re a smaller venue or want to do something different to draw in participants?

Aside from cash winnings, here are some prizes or trophies you can offer winners instead of run-of-the-mill medals.

Glasses, mugs or other drinking vessels

PNW Classic Medal

PNW Classic “Medals” – Photo by Kimberly Strong

At the recent Pacific Northwest Classic in Bend, OR winners were given glasses filled with colored paper to represent their placement (gold, silver or bronze). Aside from the interesting presentation, the glasses also had their medal color and tournament logo printed on the surface to commemorate the event.

This is a wonderful idea which allows players to show off their prowess while receiving a “medal” they can use in day-to-day life!

Refunded registration/free entry to a follow-up tournament

Sometimes the cost of entry to tournaments is not exactly cheap, especially when paired up with travel, lodging and food expenses. Returning a player’s registration fee is a great way to give them a financial break without actually having to spend money, or alternately you can offer free entry to another tournament if you’re planning more later on.

Gear or gift certificates

Soliciting businesses for cash outright can be a hard sell, especially if you’re setting up a smaller tournament or contest, but you may be able to acquire donations of a different sort. Manufacturers might donate paddles to award winners, or you can even contact local companies to see if they’ll offer gift certificates in exchange for advertising on promotional materials.

Popular options include general sports stores (for accessories and/or apparel), restaurants, specialty food shops, salons and movie theaters.

Gold and Silver PNW Classic Medals

Close-up of PNW glasses (Credit: Kimberly Strong)

Pickle-related goods

Pickleball does have an unusual name, and it can’t hurt to take advantage of it. Nalley Fine Foods was the game’s first official sponsor, after all, and they gave out jars of pickles at tournaments. Few people dislike this sour treat.

Aside from handing out the food itself, you can give away pickle ornaments, candy, mints, t-shirts or even a yodeling pickle!

There are plenty of other ideas you can explore that won’t break the bank such as tournament patches, water bottles, photos or volunteer hours. What are some of your favorite tournament awards or what would you like to see given away on the podium?

Hitting a Consistent and Powerful Serve

Your serve is the one shot you have 100% control over during a pickleball game. You can visualize ball placement, take a breath and send the ball exactly where you want it. But it can be surprisingly difficult to develop a reliable serve even when you have all these factors in your favor.

The following are a few tips that will help players improve the consistency of their serve and increase the power behind it. To start, we have a number of guidelines from pickleball instructor CJ Johnson. She lays out four points that all players should keep in mind. They are:

1. Keep the ball in front of your body. Regardless of whether you’re performing a backhand or forehand serve, it’s easier to keep both the ball and your target in sight like this instead of keeping it at your side or getting fancy.

2. Don’t use a big drop when releasing the ball from your hand. Keep the ball relatively close to your paddle and don’t use any large motions which could make it more difficult to determine the ball’s trajectory.

3. Follow through in the direction of the target with your paddle and arm. The “target” should be your opponent in the court box diagonally opposite you.

4. Develop a pre-shot routine. You’ll want to aim for your opponent’s weak point (normally their backhand), make note of any potential interference from the elements (such as sun glare and wind) and breathe. Some players include a bounce or two before their serve and this is fine as well.

To hear about these steps in depth, check out CJ’s video:

If you’d like to add more strength to your serve, Barrett of Pickleball Kitchen will show you the proper technique. Some players believe that you have to have a lot of power in your arms to develop a powerful serve, but this isn’t entirely true. While being fit and strong certainly helps, a powerful serve actually comes more from the motion in your hips than the arm or wrist.

You’ll need to develop a smooth hip rotation and also work on when you “break” your wrist. This isn’t as painful as it sounds! More specifically, when you swing there’s a certain point near the end of your follow-through where you’ll want to flip your wrist upwards to put more spin and punch behind the ball. Watch the video to see this demonstrated:

These tricks should help any player feel more confident when performing one of the most important shots in the game. What are some of your favorite methods to ensure your serves always go where intended?

How Did Thick Core Paddles Become One of the Hottest Pickleball Trends?

Over the past several years paddles with thick cores have risen in popularity and versatility. With major manufacturers such as Selkirk, Paddletek, Prince, Onix and GAMMA all offering thick core options, there’s a reason players have turned to this style of paddle and found it improved their game.

Many of those reasons are explained on our Thick Core Paddle guide where you can hear from a number of paddle manufacturers regarding why they’ve ventured into the world of thick core paddles and how their construction has changed over time. This is definitely a style that’s here to stay and players of all levels should give them a test if they’re looking for something highly controlled and stable under pressure.

One of the first thick core paddles to hit the market was the Selkirk Amped Omni, which was created in conjunction with pro player Glen Peterson. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Glen about his initial thought process behind the design and what he believes this style’s greatest strengths are. If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of thick core paddles, Glen explains them clearly:

“The idea of a thicker core appealed to my desire for a more stable paddle that generates more consistent shots across the surface. I hoped that a thicker paddle would be less likely to twist in my hand when the ball struck near the edge. Theoretically this made sense to me as a thicker core could have a lower modulus of elasticity. Practically, it just seemed the right direction the same way larger frame structures in other racquet sports improve performance.

“I cut a paddle out of a piece of 2 inch foam just to see what the thicker template felt like in my hands, and it felt great even though I couldn’t hit a ball. I then took two half inch cores and glued them together to create a usable paddle but with no edge guard. This 1 inch thick paddle was a breakthrough for me. Brian Ashworth hit with it and agreed. The challenge was creating a thicker paddle without dramatically increasing weight. Selkirk took on this challenge and made the Omni paddle with 5/8 inch thick core.  While an 1/8” thick seems small, it is a 25% increase in thickness.

“The key advantage is more consistent ball performance coming off a larger portion of the paddle surface. While it might seem a thicker core would generate more power or ball speed, the opposite seems true. I get more control, touch and consistency even when I miss-hit the ball. And I get all the power I need. Players like Ty McGuffin are able to generate amazing power even with the thicker core. Players who want tons of power with shorter strokes might prefer thinner paddles with smaller but dramatic sweet spots.

“Perhaps the only unexpected drawback to this type of paddle is that it’s harder to pick up a ball lying on the ground with the edge of the paddle since it’s thicker!

“I see paddles becoming even thicker with innovative core materials and improved paddle science. Additionally, I see ball development as being an important factor in paddle improvements. If balls become softer and less brittle, the paddles will change accordingly. Current top paddles are optimized for the Dura Fast 40 Ball which is preferred by most top players.”

Glen’s predictions have proven true so far, with manufacturer Prince introducing two new paddles featuring 9/16″ thick cores in 2018. The Prince Spectrum Pro and Response Pro have both proven popular and feature a unique oval-shaped design. The thick core makes these paddles very rigid and transfers energy evenly along the sides, top and bottom of the design. This effectively expands the sweet spot and lets players make use of space that would be “dead” in other paddles nearer to the edge guard.

Onix released their .625″ thick paddle, the Outbreak, in 2018 as well. It uses a carbon fiber face to create a soft feel that reduces vibration from impact, increasing stability and letting players maintain control over their shots. Paddletek’s Pro Series with 9/16″ cores was released later that year and included the Tempest Pro, which uses a graphite face. This combo is thought to create one of the best feeling paddles available, allowing players to hit against any area of their paddle’s surface without experiencing decreased responsiveness.

GAMMA was another major manufacturer which saw the strengths of thick cores and expanded the market in 2019. The Compass, Shard and Legend added more shape and weight variety to the mix and have shown the sweet spot can be broadened with this technology no matter the paddle’s shape or weight. With many top players enjoying these options and variety, there’s something that will satisfy everyone looking to try thick core paddles.

One of the only potential downsides players may want to be aware of when looking at these paddles is the fact that their handles tend to be more square-shaped and boxy due to the thicker construction. While several of the paddles mentioned above do come in small grip circumferences (4-1/8″), they generally have more of a structured feel to them.

Many players have found that they’re able to easily adapt to this shape after a few games with a thick core paddle, but this is something to be aware of when considering the various choices. Another option is to add an overgrip to these paddles for the purpose of softening up the more defined edges of the handle.

There are currently nineteen different paddles from six manufacturers collected on our Thick Core Paddles page, and with the way development is going, we expect this number will continue to grow. Learn more about all of these paddles here.

Local Pickleball Guide – Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville is home to some of the best country music around, and many Tennesseans have started singing the praises of pickleball too! There are many locations where you can take your paddle and get involved in the growing competitive scene while experiencing some Southern hospitality for yourself, so don’t delay and join in the fun!

Places to Play in Nashville, Tennessee

Gordon JCC – Three indoor courts. Play is free for members and $5 for non-members.
Lipscomb University Racquet Club – Indoor and outdoor courts. Free for those with annual membership or $5.
Centennial Sportsplex – Eight outdoor courts. Available to public use and reservations. Free for members and $5 for non-members.
Academy Park – Four outdoor courts. Free play for public or reserve for $10/hr. The Franklin Rec Center also has scheduled play times.
Margaret Maddox YMCA – Outdoor court open with some scheduled play times.
Sevier Park – 615-862-8466 / 3021 Lealand Lane Nashville, TN 37204
First Baptist Hendersonville Church – Tuesday 6 to 9pm for $10. Available Saturday morning if enough people sign up. Call Kay at 615-504-1015.

Centennial Sportsplex

Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville

Green Hills YMCA, Hermitage Community Center, Fairview Rec Center and Franklin Rec Center also allow for pickleball games.

Maryville Pickleball Boot Camp is open to registration dependent on time of year.

USAPA Ambassadors: Nashville

Nicole Hobson — Nashville   nhobson520@hotmail.com
Rick Hobson — Nashville   615-394-7315
Jay Wasack — Brentwood (~20 min south of Nashville)    615-994-0980, pickleballjay@gmail.com
Don Stanley — La Vergne (~25 min SE of Nashville)    615-945-1373, dstanley@christpres.org
David Hart — Columbia (~45 min SW of Nashville)    615-720-1855

Tennessee Court Construction Companies

SportMaster Sport Surfaces
Barton Sports Construction

Nashville, Tennessee Pickleball Clubs

Pickleball Nashville

Pickleball Nashville

Pickleball Tournaments Near Nashville, Tennessee

Gatlinburg Rocky Top Sports World (Gatlinburg)
Pickleball Nashville Labor Day Tournament (Brentwood)
Volley for Change (Knoxville)
Tennessee Senior Olympics (Franklin)

Nashville pickleball players

Nashville pickleball players

Nashville Pickleball Related News and Videos

Pickleball Princess Paddles Away the Pounds
Welcome to Pickleball Nashville
Pickleball Growing in Popularity Among All Ages
Jake Owen and Kid Rock’s ‘Grass Is Always Greener’ Was Born from a Pickleball Game
Pickleball Clinics Coming to Westhaven and Academy Park
Pickleball Holding Court in Spring Hill

Ambassador Series – Jan Lucas, USAPA Ambassador for the Greater La Crosse Wisconsin Area

Ambassador Series – Jan Lucas – USAPA Ambassador for the Greater La Crosse Wisconsin Area

Tournament medals Jan Lucas

Jan Lucas and husband Robert

When you hear about a growing pickleball program, you have to know there is a USAPA Ambassador working to make it happen. Enjoy Jan’s story!

I started playing pickleball in December 2014 while visiting my parents in Arizona. When we got back home to Dayton, OH, we found one court and kept playing. In 2015 Larry Vergilio, USAPA Ambassador, asked if I could help teach pickleball. I made myself available and started teaching women at a local tennis club. I love the game and I love to teach people about the health benefits of pickleball, both the physical and emotional benefits.

Later my husband got a promotion which meant a move to La Crosse, Wisconsin, right on the Mississippi River. He went to La Crosse ahead of me, while I stayed back to settle things with our house. He immediately connected with folks playing pickleball. We already had a large group of friends when I arrived. Pickleball always comes with a built-in community.

Oak Park Pickleball Courts in Onalaska, Wisconsin

Oak Park Pickleball Courts in Onalaska, Wisconsin

In the La Crosse area I found there were 4 dedicated courts in the area and no USAPA Ambassadors, so I became an Ambassador for the greater La Crosse area including several suburbs of La Crosse. The USAPA does a great job of building pickleball programs through the Ambassador program. We petitioned the city to put in more courts with 100 signatures. We did phone calls, attended council meetings, got friendly with tennis people and won their support. The city has agreed to install 6 more courts with lighting. We are very excited because in the fall when the days are shorter, lighted courts allow folks to play longer outdoors. We have 2 local YMCAs that have pickleball. In the nearby town of Homer there was an unused tennis court where we set up pickleball on half of the court. 30 miles away in Winona, Minnesota there are indoor courts.

Bob and Jan Lewis

Robert and Jan Lewis with Dave Weinbach at River Valley Paddle Battle

La Crosse Area Logo

La Crosse Area Logo

We started a club for our community which has grown to almost 300 members. We have 250 followers on our Greater La Crosse Pickleball Facebook page and an additional 150 followers on our private La Crosse Pickleball Club page. We have 275 followers on Instagram. We’re growing, getting new courts, gaining identity as a large group and starting to bring home wins and medals at tournaments.

People come from 30 miles away in Minnesota to play pickleball. Most folks are recreational players. Only 10% of all players go to national tournaments, and they’re mostly guys. Many of our players are moving up in the grading system. We approached a tennis center in Winona about adding pickleball to their program and they agreed. We had the River Valley Paddle Battle Round Robin event last March. I’m also partnering with Dave Weinbach for our next big tournament in March 2020. He’s bringing in sponsors and lots of pros! Our club is almost at 300 people – not quite there yet, but we will be in another month. We are having our 1st sanctioned tournament with 60 people participating. We will have a booth with videos showing the game of pickleball.

We use the GroupMe App to keep in touch with everybody in the club, letting them know changes in court availability or announcing pick-up games and special events. Drop-in play is scheduled every day. We have round robin tournaments and summer leagues. Dave Weinbach has provided clinics in our area too.

Jan Lucas and friends

Mike Gritzmacher, Robert Lucas, Diane Walker and Jan Lucas at a tournament

Events often are partnerships with folks in the community. For example, in May we supported cancer research in Gunderson. In September, we will be doing pickleball demonstrations during a “Stepping Out In Pink” event. The Honorary Chairperson, Candi Bucheger, is a cancer survivor. The city has an annual Riverfest event. This year is the first time our club will be involved. We’ll have one court with players on it all the time and one court for folks who want to learn the game. We just got business cards to hand out and we will have a booth with a monitor in place showing folks playing pickleball. We’re excited to continue finding opportunities to grow the game in our community.

La Crosse Area Pickleball Club

La Crosse Area Pickleball Club

How Can We Make Pickleball Appeal to a Younger Demographic?

Pickleball started off as a family game, but over the years it’s become more common for people to see it as a sport for retirees or former tennis players. This isn’t to say the pickleball community hasn’t made efforts to involve kids—we’ve seen a proliferation of youth leagues, efforts to get the game in schools, not to mention a growing group of high level teenage players.

But is there anything else that can be done to make the sport more attractive to youngsters? We have some ideas.

Anna Leigh Waters often doubles up with her mother in competitive pickleball matches and crushes the competition

Invite Them

It seems like an obvious thing to do, but the simplest path can be overlooked! Chances are you have a few kids in your life, and your own family or a friend’s are a great place to start recruiting younger talent. This is the most common way younger players find the game.

Depending on the personalities involved, you can either take the route of friendly competition (“Surely you’re not afraid of losing a game to me?”), a unique day out (“Want to try something new? I promise it’s easy to learn!”) or in times of desperation, guilt (“Humor your poor aunt/grandpa/etc for one evening?”).

Since most people in the general populace, much less the younger crowd, don’t know about pickleball, it may be up to you to make the introduction.

Better Scheduling

One complaint we often hear among younger players is that many pickleball leagues gather in the early morning or middle of the day. This is fine for retired players, but often clashes with those who still have school, a 9 -5 job or work later in the evening.

If you want to attract younger players, it might be wise to free up a few times for rec leagues and beginner clinics later in the day or on weekends. If you know of clubs or groups in your area that cater to this sort of schedule, then don’t hesitate to recommend them to those who may have trouble finding something that suits them.

Jack Munro is one of the youngest 5.0-rated players

More Exposure

Pickleball still isn’t commonplace on TV or in other popular media, so sometimes you have to go straight to your targets’ natural environment. Try to get local schools’ health teachers on board to try the sport. If you have your own court, you can of course host pickleball games for youth in the area.

Volunteer to give a talk and clinic on pickleball. Ask venues that are popular with the younger crowd if you could advertise your club and set up free intro clinics so kids can get their feet wet.

How have you gotten kids involved in pickleball before? Which approaches worked best for you and what do you think will draw more youth to pickleball?