Dick Johnson Is the 2nd Pickler to Win “Personal Best” from the NSGA

Dick Johnson has received the “Personal Best” Award from the National Senior Games Association, the largest multi-sport event in the world for athletes 50 years and older. This recognition is only presented to a handful of athletes out of over 100,000 entrants across 20 sports. In the Games’ 31 years of history, this is only the second time a pickler has received the award, and the first for an Idahoan.

Looking at Dick’s incredible accomplishments and character, the award is well deserved.

The indomitable athlete has medaled twice in all seven national and world pickleball championships, and won close to 200 medals (mostly gold) in tournaments. More impressive yet, he’s done it within only five years of starting the sport.

Dick Johnson

Credit: National Senior Games Assoc.

Dick had played tennis since the 8th grade and won state championships. After a back fusion surgery in 1978 he continued to mentor his three daughters, all of whom became high school tennis champs.

Unfortunately, the surgery only partly suppressed Dick’s back pain, forcing him to permanently quit tennis about 20 years ago. Like many coming from a racquet sport background, he wanted to find a sport that would still challenge him and help him stay healthy without exacerbating his discomfort.

Pickleball was the answer, and the 78-year-old has given back by helping to construct a new facility at Hobble Creek in Boise, as well as becoming a founder of the Super Seniors International Pickleball Association.

Dick’s wife, Lawana, is proud of his dedication, skill and passion, saying that she is happy his work inspires others. He continues to serve through his devotion to “God, family and community.”

An article by the National Senior Games Association interviews Dick and shares more of his experiences and impressive accomplishments. Dick explains how pickleball helped him overcome his back pain and type 2 diabetes, how he got through multiple operations, his biggest inspirations and how he stays motivated.

Give it a read to find out more about this wonderful pickler! Our congratulations go out to Dick and his family.

Meet The Pros – Nancy Jensen

Meet The Pros – Nancy Jensen

Nancy Jensen, Takako Tourangeau

May, 2017 Timberhill Spring Fling @ Corvallis, OR Gold WD 4.5 Nancy Jensen, Takako Tourangeau

Nancy Jensen is one of our favorite local Pros. I love Nancy’s story, especially the part about Joel Pritchard coming to her school and Nancy’s use of pickle juice to re-energize during a tournament. Enjoy!

Can you list for us your wins so that we can correctly introduce you to our readers?

In May of 2016 I began competing regularly in tournaments. In June of 2017 I received notification that I would be rated as 5.0. Takako Tourangeau & I decided to delay that change until after Nationals in Nov. since the 4.5 category would now be included. For 2018 I have played in my 5.0 Legacy rating, but my rating under the new system will now be WD – 4.5, MXD 5.0, WS- 4.5.

I have been lucky enough to play in quite a few tournaments with different partners since I started playing competitively two years ago. My tournament experiences below lists many of the medals I’ve won in the skill categories 4.5 and 5.0. I’ve also competed in the age groupings of 35+ through 70+. My hope is that I can continue to be considered a competitive tournament player who can play and find partners in these skill and age groupings at future local or national tournaments.

2018 Coeur d’Alene Classic Silver Women’s Singles 4.5
2018 SoCal Summer Classic  @ Encinitas, CA Mixed Doubles 60+ Bronze with Gregg Whitfield
2018 Pickleball Station 4.5 & 5.0 – Kent, WA Gold Women’s Doubles  with Mary Sigmen
2018 Pickleball Station 4.5 & 5.0 — Kent, WA  Silver Women’s Doubles with Takako Tourangeau
2018 Grand Canyon @ El Mirage, AZ Gold Women’s Doubles 5.0 Age 70+ Audrey Sherfey
2018 Cougar Classic Gold Women’s Doubles 5.0  with Takako Tourangeau
Gold Mixed Doubles 4.5 Ages 60-70+ with Jim McMillan
2017 USAPA Pacific NW Regional @ Bend, OR Gold Women’s Doubles 4.5 Ages 19-35+ with Takako Tourangeau
2017 Canada National @ Kelowna Gold Women’s Doubles 4.5  with Takako Tourangeau
2017 International Indoor @ Centralia Gold Women’s Doubles 4.5 with Takako Tourangeau
Silver Sr. Women’s Doubles with Che Cui

Pickleball Station Gold with Mary Sigmen

 What paddle do you play with and why?

I have played with various paddles produced by Paddletek. I thought I was playing well with the Bantam until this year at the Grand Canyon Tournament when Chris Miller had me try his red & white Paddletek Tempest. He thought with my game, I’d like the touch & feel of this paddle and he was absolutely right. I’ve been tempted by other paddles but prefer playing with the Tempest. Like in tennis, I need to stay with a paddle that fits my game and not be tempted by the latest & greatest new paddle.

What is your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

I began teaching High School PE in 1972 and during a fall sports clinic, Joel Pritchard presented a brief workshop on pickleball. He handed out a 2-page rule sheet which included a template for making paddles from 5/8 inch plywood. My fellow PE teacher purchased the wood & cut out the paddles. We sanded them down, placed athletic tape around the handles as grips and then purchased wiffle balls. At the end of our badminton units we would incorporate a pickleball unit. At that time I was teaching, coaching and playing competitive tennis, so I didn’t like pickleball. The paddles were too heavy and the handles cut your hands. In 2014 I found pickleball listed at a Seattle Rec. Center and saw for the first time how much the sport and equipment had changed since the 70’s. Injuries had prevented me from continuing with tennis, so I was eager to finally find something I truly enjoyed as much as tennis.

What is your preference: playing indoors or outdoors?

I love playing outside when the courts are dry, temperatures are above 50 degrees, the wind is below 10 mph and the Dura-40 ball is being used. But because I choose to live in the PNW and I want to play, drill & improve my game, I have to play inside on hardwood or a tennis court. During the rainy season, I’m just happy that there are now indoor pickleball courts available. For tournaments, I prefer outdoor play with all it’s varied locations and the diverse natural elements which add additional challenges to this extremely enjoyable game.

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

I’ve always enjoyed playing a singles game characterized by more net play and fewer groundstrokes. Right now I feel I can still be competitive at the 4.5 skill level in the 35+ and 50+ divisions. At my age singles takes a toll on my body very quickly and I don’t want it to negatively affect my doubles play in the days which follow this event. My hope is that the smaller tournaments will begin using a 15-point format with 2 out of 3 games reserved for the finals. This change, I think, would encourage more women to begin or continue playing in the singles event.

I love the doubles game mostly because I can more fully utilize my aggressive serve & volley skills developed when I played tennis. They transfer almost seamlessly to pickleball shots and strategies. Of course, the dink shot has proven to be a challenging exception. I believe a successful doubles team requires finding a partner whose game both complements and contrasts with your own. Finding a partner, and then working together to develop the skills, team strategies, competitive temperament, and thereby the team chemistry needed to compete successfully, is one of the hidden rewards to be treasured in the doubles game.

Jan. 2018 Cougar Classic @ Vancouver, WA Gold WD 5.0

Jan. 2018 Cougar Classic @ Vancouver, WA Emy Williams/Lynn Syler, Silver, Nancy Jensen/Takako Tourangeau, Gold, Sheila Schoonover/KimBessling, Bronze Women’s Doubles 5.0

What is your favorite place to play? Why?

I began playing at various rec sites in Seattle, Mercer Island and the ARC located in the International District. Each time I changed location it was to move to a higher level of play where I thought I could now compete and also learn more advanced skills. Since I prefer to play against a variety of players, my favorite locations in Seattle are now: Pickleball Station, Yost Park, SeaTac Rec. the Highline Athletic Cemter in Burien and also the Eastmont Public Parks in East Wenatchee.

What is your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

Be sure you’re having fun and that you are continually striving to learn. Find a player who is as addicted to the game as you are and is willing to drill. I was fortunate that when I started to play competitive pickleball I meet and partnered with Takako who was developing a similar addiction to the game. We continue to drill & play to help each other improve our individual skills and games strategies.

What is your day job?

For 31 years I taught in the Highline School District. I began teaching PE & coaching tennis at Highline High School in 1972. For 4 years I directed the WA State Girl’s Invitational Tennis Tournament until the event was recognized by the WIAA and became an official State Tournament. In 1980 I joined the Business Dept. at Highline teaching computer programming, Info Tech & Computer Apps, and Web Design. In the 1990’s I moved to Mt. Rainier High School’s Business Dept. and taught there until I retired in 2004. After 31 years of teaching, I retired. In Seattle it’s an extreme joy not to have a daily 30-45 minute commute.

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?

During the summer I usually play between 3 to 4 days a week for about 2-3 hours. One or two of those days are focused on drills. During the rainy season, it has become more difficult to find facilities that aren’t overly crowded. However, I can still play 2 times a week but I also try to find times, facilities & players who are available to drill in the mornings or midday.

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

I don’t have any rituals that I know are lucky. To prepare my body and mind, I do focus on hydrating with electrolyte drinks several days before the tournament. I also keep a supply of pickle juice handy in case a more concentrated supply is needed during the tournament. I continue to follow the preparation activities I used for tennis. This includes mentally practicing my shots & strategies, reviewing mental & physical notes I have about my opponents, try to determine what the best individual/team strategy might be against some opponents, and deciding how the court and playing conditions will determine which option I’ll prefer if I win the toss. My most important ritual is: “Always go to the bathroom before taking the court, so you’re sure to have your complete attention on the game!”

Do you have any pickleball goals you would like to share?

Skills I’m currently trying to develop are: blocking and digging out smashes from the mid-court with a soft drop shot into the kitchen. Footwork remains a constant area of work and focus because it has such a major positive impact on my consistency and success when I move efficiently and get into position early. I just received an incredibly appropriate t-shirt for my birthday. It states:

“Dink Responsibly,
Don’t Get Smashed”

I am told that I’m a bit too aggressive in my play and need to develop “patience.” “Easy” as Brian Ashworth has frequently said, should be my mantra.  Unfortunately after about 3-4 dinks a little voice shouts in my ear, ”Attack.” Now my goal is to regularly hit 5-6 dinks in a row and maybe someday get to 10 dinks before I hear “Attack!”

Anything else you would like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world?

First, I am not one of the best players, but I think being in Seattle has allowed me to watch and play against some of the best. Many of these players have been very willing to give me tips and help me develop my game. Realizing that I don’t have that many competitive years left, I knew I needed a more concentrated and focused approach to improve my game. I decided to take a few lessons, something I never did for tennis. The private lessons from Peter Hudachko has been a immense help in improving my skills in both dinking and blocking, while also making my footwork patterns more efficient.

Youtube videos have allowed me watch the skills and analyze the strategies used by the BEST. Although my previous experience in tennis is a help, I was slow to realize that pickleball really isn’t tennis. I need to continually analyze, modify and/or develop my shots and strategies. Recently I viewed a video of my competitive match play. Although not a pretty thing to watch, it clearly shows you what you have not corrected, the errors or poor techniques you’re continuing to use, and the poor footwork or court positioning that has returned and must again be corrected. I think most players would improve their skills & court positioning if they could arrange to have a video made of their match play. This visual feedback provides you with the critical information you need to realize your progress and also determine your new goals in pickleball.


Do You Care That Pickleball Sounds “Silly”?

Upon hearing the name “pickleball” for the first time, most people laugh in a mixture of amusement and confusion.

Why is it called that when the game has nothing to do with pickles? Don’t people care if it’s taken seriously? Shouldn’t we all have more dignity?

We’ve discussed the name here, and founder Barney McCallum is clearly in favor of keeping it despite some protest. We all know the majority of people who actually try the game after their initial shock fall in love with it, odd name or no. And indeed, we find a certain amount of joy in the fact that our favorite sport has a name that’s both playful and memorable.

Pickles playing pickleball

Having a name like pickleball is a good reminder that players shouldn’t take things too seriously. Certainly there are high level players who approach the sport with a certain amount of reverence, especially if they make their living through it or play at pro tournaments.

But just because pickleball may be some people’s livelihoods doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have a bit of fun with it. This is true with anything in life—if we stop taking the opportunity to smile or laugh about something, even in serious times, then finding a spark of joy in other areas becomes that much harder.

This is all ten times truer when it comes to games. Sports are not only intended to promote fitness and friendly competition, but fun! “Pickleball” lets us know we should never lose sight of that.

We also think that pickleball might be unfairly picked on now and then due to its rising star. There are many sports with funny names that are still treated with respect and even represented in the Olympics.

Take, for example, luge. Particularly doubles luge. This is admittedly one of the most difficult and dangerous sports in the world. People go hurtling over ice at speeds of over 90 mph. The name comes from a word in a French dialect meaning “small coasting sled.”

Doubles luge

That’s all well and good, but let’s face it… in the U.S. at least, the pronunciation sounds a bit like the much less flattering “loogie.” Add that to the fact that when lugers get in position, it’s somewhat reminiscent of an uncomfortable, double-stacked human hamburger patty.

Did people poke fun at luge, a sport many had never even heard of until the Winter Olympics? Sure! Yet no one was denying the athleticism and skill required to steer sleds at such intense speeds. Indeed, the seeming absurdity of luge became a bit of a “thing” as viewers tuned in first out of curiosity, then became honest fans as they admired the daring feats these athletes accomplished.

Why shouldn’t pickleball embrace its inherent silliness in the same way? If the sport’s name is just one other way to capture newcomers’ attention and get them wondering about the game, then we couldn’t care less how unusual it comes across at first blush.

We’re not hesitant to indulge in the sport’s goofy side, and at our original PickleballCentral location, we even had one of our Yodeling Pickles out front to greet customers.

Do you enjoy the sillier aspects of pickleball? What was your first reaction when you heard the infamous name? Any particular memories surrounding it that stand out? Let us know in the comments!

AMBASSADOR SERIES – Ron Tugwell, North Virginia, Fairfax County

Ambassador Series – Ron Tugwell

Location: North Virginia, Fairfax County

Ron Tugwell, Home Plate Awards

56th Annual Home Plate Awards Banquet, Ron Tugwell, organizer on the left,

Ron Tugwell is a life-long sports enthusiast and coach. We are glad to have him in the pickleball “family” now! Enjoy!

How did you get into pickleball?

I’ve been involved in sports all my life. I coached baseball. My son played professional baseball. I played tennis, but I’ve had 2 knee replacements in 4 years. After the last knee surgery, I tennis-ed out, and started playing golf. It was tough to learn and hard on my knees. Then about 7 years ago I visited my parents who live in a retirement community. They played pickleball and I started hitting around with them. I got hooked, went home and found places where it was played. I play pickleball now 4-5 times a week. My wife and I both play. We get to know people better playing pickleball than when we played tennis. We enjoy organizing pickleball parties and we travel with it. I played at Naples (US Open). It’s nicer traveling with pickleball than with golf. Pickleball is my passion. The appeal of the game is that it is easy to learn and fairly inexpensive.

Why did you become an ambassador?

I was approached by Helen White, Asst Regional Mid-Atlantic Director, outside DC. She’s great! She asked for help with the Mid-Atlantic Tournament, so my wife Peggy and I jumped in and helped. Peggy and I like to travel and play together, and we like to help, so we jumped at the chance to become ambassadors. We work together as co-ambassadors. We handle a lot of calls and have a lot of visitors to the places that have pickleball.

Highlights of being an ambassador? Accomplishments?

Helen, Peggy and I work together to get more people playing pickleball. Two years ago, 20% of folks who took our classes stayed with it. Today, every class is full, and they often have played already and have already bought a paddle. The growth includes younger folks ages 30-50. Pickleball is also being introduced in public schools.  We introduce pickleball at local middle schools for the first-time last year. 

We just finished hosting a City Open Tournament in DC. We also had the 10 best pickleball pros, like Tyson McGuffin, Irina Tereschenko and Joey Farias, come to do exhibition play. Three stayed around after to do clinics. We filled 260 slots for a 3-day clinic.

Pro clinic

Clinic participants and the Pros – Tyson McGuffin, Irina Tereshenko, Joe Farias in the cente, row did you get into pickleball?

What challenges have you encountered in getting pickleball into communities?

I know pickleball will grow. My wife and I are both educators, but sometimes it’s like pulling teeth. I’ve learned that the game is 80% practice and 20% play. Most folks are 3.0 level and not seeking to improve much. It’s sometimes hard to get folks to do skills and drills.  

Peggy Tugwell

Tyson McGuffin and Peggy Tugwell

We are behind on providing enough facilities for the demand for the game. There are no dedicated courts within 50 miles except Fredricksburg. Pickleball is big in pockets of Maryland. In the DC area, there are more indoor courts. We have heavy competition with other activities. Fairfax County wants all facilities to be multipurpose. A number of facilities are small and some have tile floors, like one site near Arlington which is not so good for pickleball. There are 220 tennis courts in Fairfax County, and only 20% are being used. We are looking into one perfect location, easy access in the DC area. It has 11 tennis courts that no one uses, with 2 that have pickleball lines. We are working hard to convince the county athletic board to consider expanding pickleball in this location.

Food, Fun and Pickleball at Smash Park in Des Moines, IA

Chicken N Pickle may have been the first entertainment, restaurant and pickleball venue, but we can now add Smash Park to that list!

The location in Des Moines, IA features a casual restaurant that offers burgers, chicken, cocktails and salads. Pickleball isn’t the only sport they have available either, with bocce ball, pingpong, shuffleboard and board games ready for action.

Smash Park

The Des Moines Register article announcing the opening notes that “a majority of Smash Park’s 47,000 square feet is dedicated to pickleball.” Open play is $7/day on unreserved courts, or $10 – 20 depending per half hour depending on the day and time. There are 6 indoor and 2 outdoor courts.

The facility will be hosting leagues starting in October and plans to provide training clinics and regional tournaments down the road.

We’re always excited to hear about more entertainment and court locations opening up around the U.S.! The Smash Park site shares that they hope to “[recreate] those same backyard summer vibes of ’65, when pickleball was new and friends and family gathered to play, laugh and have fun together.” Sounds like our kind of place.

You can even rent out the Smash Park deck as an event space for parties or fun events when you want to have a posh pickleball gathering.

If you’re in the Des Moines area, be sure to check it out and share in the fun.

The Overlooked Importance of Breathing

For most of us breathing comes naturally.

But in some physical pursuits whether stretching, running, weight lifting or giving birth, our breathing instincts may differ from what is best. We actually hold our breath when we ought to exhale or inhale.

Top athletes, unlike me, recognize the importance of deliberate breathing particularly in the midst of a strenuous exertion. Since pickleball is a sport which requires both relaxation and exertion, deliberate breathing may be helpful.

Breathing woman

Credit: sankarwaits

One particular friend grunts every time he hits a ball, and sometimes even when he doesn’t hit a ball! Grunting always involves exhaling. Monica Seles and Jimmy Conners were famous for their grunting.

So if you find yourself holding your breath during a point, trying grunting every time you hit the ball. If you can do so quietly, all the better. And if your partner is getting all the balls, don’t forget to breathe anyway.

I would love to hear other comments on how breathing affects your pickleball game!

Ambassador Series – Meet Mary Barsaleau, USAPA Ambassador, Coachella Valley, California

AMBASSADOR SERIES – Meet Mary Barsaleau

Rosie Garcia, Vincente and Mary Barsaleau

Referee clinic with Rosie, Vincente and Mary – what a TEAM!

Mary Barsaleau loves getting EVERYONE into the game. Her love of the sport is clearly apparent by all the work she is doing to promote the game of pickleball. Enjoy!

Mary Barsaleau in Action

Mary Barsaleau demonstrating at the L.A. A.P.E teachers clinic

How did you get into pickleball?

I started teaching and coaching after I finished the teaching credential program at U.C. Santa Barbara in 1983, after playing tennis, basketball and softball in college.

I was introduced to teaching pickleball at the Cal Poly workshop in 1984. It was a blast, and we had mini tournaments after classes. I incorporated pickleball into my physical education curriculum at Francis Parker, and in the Grossmont and Tustin Unified school districts. I coached both the boys’ and girls’ varsity  and J.V. tennis teams for 7 years at Tustin High, and even my tennis team loved pickleball!

Before we had courts, I used the service boxes on the tennis courts and dropped the volleyball nets on the volleyball courts, at first using tennis balls and hard plastic paddles. The kids loved it!

I ran summer tennis camps for 12 years and did “pickleball Wednesdays” from 2002-2015 in Tustin. They wanted to play pickle more than tennis!

In 2012 I joined a P.E. workshop friend who told me they were playing competitive pickleball at Crown Valley middle school. Bill Smith and Jane Porphir as well as many others took me under their wing, told me to quit “playing like a tennis player,” and encouraged me to enter some tournaments. After joining Phil Dunmeyer’s early morning Tustin district employee gang (aluminum nets and taped lines) I played my first tournament at the Palm Springs Senior Games in 2013. After recovering from back surgery, I moved from 4.0 to 4.5 and became a USAPA ambassador in 2015.

Refs in Training Mary Barsaleau

What a great bunch of Refs in Training

Why did you become an Ambassador?

I love pickleball, love teaching others and wanted to start a program that did not conflict with sanctioned tournaments and social play at Tustin. I had run many events as an athletic director, and thought that the round robins which Cyndi Glavas and Phil Dunmeyer first organized at Tustin were the way to go.

Patriotic Pickle Round Robin participants at Tustin

Patriotic Pickle Round Robin participants at Tustin

My first round robin was the Summer Sizzler in the summer of 2015, and I just hosted Summer Sizzler 4! The round robin format is a great way to meet people, socialize, practice for tournaments and not worry about being eliminated. I have run about 20 events at Tustin, and 5 in Palm Springs. That is my major ambassador contribution, and I hope to continue to run these events everywhere. 

Montana School Demonstration Mary Barsaleau

Mary and youth at the Montaras School Demonstration

Highlights of being a USAPA ambassador? Accomplishments?

I finished the IPTPA training to be an instructor in July. I plan to attend the Professional Pickleball Registry (PPR) certification program in September at Seal Beach, so I can compare the two teaching programs. PPR is a subset of the Professional Tennis Registry, of which I have been a member for years. They provide certification and insurance for instructors.

Mary Barsaleau, Garcia with Montana School Students

Mary Barsaleau, Rosie Roper with Montaras School youth

Rosie Roper and I ran two clinics for L.A. Unified in June, for both students and APE teachers. I recruited Jeanie Garcia, Doug Nichols and Gary Rogers to help, along with Bev Vigil, who works for LAUSD. San Clemente ambassador Manny Romero is working to schedule an inservice for his teachers this year, after we ran a senior center demonstration along with Phil Dunmeyer earlier this year. I am working with Steve Riggs to start the program in Irvine when the Portola facility is completed. I recently changed my ambassador registration from Tustin/Long Beach to the Coachella Valley and hope to run more round robins, in-service workshops and school district programs in the desert.

Dean Mangione, USAPA ambassador in Palm Springs, has worked hard to promote pickleball in a variety of programs, and has been my mentor. Along with Rosie Roper, we ran a free clinic during Spring break that had over 45 kids! He and his wife Nancy have worked with the city, and have offered free youth programs indoors at both Demuth and JOJ community centers. Along with Vicki Oltean with the City of Palm Springs, and Dave Paquette, I have run 5 round-robin tournaments during the season, with great success. Hank Reimer is running referee clinics and training in the Palm Desert area, and I am working with him to become a certified referee.

Challenges to getting pickleball into communities?

We need to work cooperatively with the tennis community and offer free programs to introduce our sport in camps, after school programs and schools. Senior center demonstrations, Back to School Night or Open House demonstrations, and off season leagues for high school girls and boys tennis teams are only a start.

When we get them playing, they will push their communities to build more courts. Sponsorships from businesses will help with funding, and corporate Health and Wellness is a great place to offer pickleball to get employees active and exercising. I would like to see everyone on the courts!