Tournament Tips: The Happy Trails Classic and the Power of Committees

Mike McKay has directed two tournaments which involved over 20 committees of volunteers. Thanks to his strong sense of organization and the teams’ efforts, each competition has run smoothly. If you want to get an idea of what it takes to manage a big group of volunteers, Mike is your guy!  

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Mike McKay (center) with his pickleball buddies.

What is the name of your tournament?

The Happy Trails Classic. This was the 14th year of the tournament. As for me, this the second one that I’ve directed. I’ve helped in different capacities in the past as more of a worker bee. 

Was there a club hosting the tournament? Name of the club?

The Happy Trails Pickleball Club in Surprise, Arizona. It’s a northwestern suburb of Phoenix.

When was your tournament?

January 16 through the 20th. Our tournament ran over five days. 

Where was your tournament?

Happy Trails RV Resort in Surprise, Arizona. 

How many players registered for the tournament?

455 players registered.

How many courts were available for the tournament? Indoor court or outdoor courts?

We had 10 pickleball courts. 4 were temporary courts. They were all outdoor. It’s a blessing in Arizona. There’s not too much indoor stuff because weather isn’t too bad. This year though, we had some weather to contend with. On Thursday, 10 in the morning, we had showers water down the courts, and had to suspend play. From Thursday to Friday, we had to dry the courts four different times.

wetfield

The pickleball community gets together to dry off the courts.

We had to put beach towels on top of the court to help dry, and then wring out the towels. Across from our venue, we had to go the laundromat, and dump quarters into it. We had to go 4 times! Everyone is hunched over, dragging towels over, ruining our backs. It was quite a challenge, and the club stepped to it. It was really a great memory for me, and I think the community in total. 

What events/brackets did you offer?  

It was men’s, women’s, and mixed doubles. Our tournament was a culmination of skill and age. We had 50-59, 60-69, and 70 & up.

We hired pickleballtournaments.com to keep track of our brackets. We got a phone call from four guys in the area that were over 80 years young.They wanted to know if we would get them medals. We ended up making that work out. Pickleballtournaments.com scheduled them in the 70+ bracket first thing in the morning to play each other. They got their medals. It was a great memory.

brackets

The Event Desk overseeing a successful tournament.

Did you have a team working with you? What were their delegated tasks/roles?

We had over 20 committees that performed a lot of different tasks. 210 to 215 volunteers over the course of fives days  with many people doing many jobs different days. We try to keep the shifts shorter about 4 hours max so it’s fun for the people and not so much quote-unquote work. If you make that work fun, everyone is going to have a much more enjoyable time.

  • Check-in
  • Runners (They keep the courts full. To be timely and efficient with your day, as soon as you get the results from the most distant court to the tournament event desk, the faster you’re putting the next match out.)
  • Run the Boards at the Event Desk (Get the announcements out to keep the courts full.)
  • Court Maintenance
  • Hospitality
  • Parking Shuttles (Players had to park 3/10 of a mile away. People are directed to the parking lot, and then a shuttle crew with golf carts would cart people back and forth from 6 in the morning until the end of the day.)
  • Photography
  • Seating
  • Managing Referee
  • Safety Committee 
  • Social Committee  (This included overseeing a dinner and dance.)
  • Vendors
  • Signage
  • Lunches 
  • Technical Support
  • Posting (This person gets the results from the Runner at the Event Desk. They would input the results into pickleballtournaments.com software. They would also update the brackets so friends and families of players can figure out which court their loved ones are playing on.)
  • Fruit Gatherers

Did you seek sponsors for your tournament? Who were the sponsors? What did the sponsor contribute?

We don’t really seek out sponsors. Our resort really doesn’t allow us to hang banners on the fencing. We did have PickleballCentral. They were great to us. They gave us 625 of their nice, bright orange drawstring bags that we used as player gifts. We’ve got 455 players, so we had a bag for each of them. We had all these items that we gathered and purchased for each player, typically a t-shirt and a bottle of water.

We stuffed about 500 of them. Here in our park, we strung out 40 tables to fill these bags. We’ve got groups of ladies and men that will play 1 to 3 on Thursday, and after they play they’d stuff these bags. So we put food items, water, notices for other tournaments, pens, and gifts. We even had toothbrushes.

Was the tournament a fundraising event? For what charity or cause? How much did you raise?

It was a little bit of a fundraiser. We take the money for court improvements. We’ve benefited by benches, shade structures, and new nets for the resort.

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Mike McKay and his wife after a hard-played game.

Did you offer refreshments? Or sell food/drink at the event?

Here at our resort, we have a little restaurant. It’s all run by volunteers. We are fortunate to have this group of volunteers.  We had Waldorf salads. We had ciabatta sandwiches. Bratwurst was a big hit on the rainy day! We had chicken salad croissants. There were just so many great options. Each lunch consisted of  a menu item, chips, and a drink for $5.00. By doing all of this with volunteers, it keeps the food costs down.

We went through 12 jars of pickles! When you play this silly sport, people get leg cramps. Vinegar helps with the leg cramps. Players carry around packets of mustard for the same reason.

We also had 10 dozen donuts every morning to start.

We are huge on hospitality. Everything is free. I don’t care if you’re a player. If you’re playing, and your family or friends want something, they can help themselves. I don’t care if you’re a player or someone walking down the sidewalk.

Did you charge a registration fee? How much?

It was $45.00 to register, and then $5.00 for each event. So if you played men’s doubles and mixed, it was $45 plus $10.

Anything special or unique about your tournament?

It’s a very welcoming tournament. It’s got a great reputation. And the demand has grown so fast. Pickleballtournaments.com told us that our tournament was the first time women’s doubles filled before the men’s!

What are your top tips for people putting on a tournament like yours?

If somebody is putting a tournament together, include a lot of people. You’re going to need a lot of help. Start quite a bit early. You’re going to have a lot of challenges pop up. You’ll have to revert to “plan b” a lot of times.

Try to make it as fun as possible, especially for the volunteers. It’s just pickleball. Nobody’s making a living at this. It’s a very social game that brings people together. 

Start early enough. Don’t wait too long to start. I benefited from taking over from someone else. A lot of people have done it 12 years prior to me. I’m already talking over something that’s in place instead of starting anew.

Our tournament ended the January 20th. We have next January scheduled already. We have meetings and dates already set. All the committee chairs are established for next year as well.

I think there’s a tournament checklist on USAPA. I would recommend anyone new to this to check out the guidelines: Tournament director’s checklist. There’s a lot of food for thought on there that’s very helpful.

Running your event through pickleballtournaments.com is great and is a very reasonable fee.

 

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