Ambassador Series – Meet Denise Donald, District Ambassador for all of New Jersey and Pennsylvania
It has been a delight talking with USAPA Mid-Atlantic District Ambassador Denise Donald about how pickleball has taken over her life. Here is some of her story. Enjoy!
I started playing pickleball in 2011 and became instantly addicted. When I started there were only 8 folks playing pickleball in South Jersey. We used masking tape to mark pickleball lines on a tennis court. The township got wind of it and painted pickleball lines on 2 tennis courts. I love encouraging folks to play. I use Meetup.com to get folks to participate. I did meetups for drills and skills, but people complained about them using the only courts available for drills, so the local rec. center let me be on their schedule for drills and skills sessions. Now I get paid $50 for each class! In 2019, we have 1284 people playing pickleball in South Jersey.
I love seeing people enjoy themselves. All retirees I meet seem to want to fill their time with activity, but a lot of sports don’t have time to play during the day. Retirees used to say to me, “I don’t know what I’m going to do in retirement,” so I suggest trying pickleball, and now they play pickleball every day. Pickleball makes folks feel like they are a part of something bigger. It’s a grass roots movement that has become a national movement.
I have been very busy since I first signed up to be a USAPA Ambassador 6 years ago. I have done 2 podcasts on NPR with Marty Masowarin about how to grow the sport. I get calls every week to help start pickleball. When I started, there were less than 12 Ambassadors in the District. Now there are 61; 31 in Pennsylvania, and 30 in Jersey, with more people interested. The Area Team includes Bill Gionetti, Egg Harbor Township. Bill Gionetti does pickleball classes weekly. He’s 82 and has been dedicated to growing pickleball for 10-15 years. We have a lot of folks do the ground work and do hours of work just for the enjoyment of and growing the game. South Jersey has a Facebook page.
If growing pickleball is the goal, you can be sure that pickleball has been growing by leaps and bounds in my district. In Jersey Shore, every town now has put in pickleball courts. In June of 2016, I located an unused basketball court and turned it into 4 dedicated pickleball courts. 8 of the dozen who started playing pickleball still play. One township is building 5 more courts from scratch. Another township had no money, but offered to power wash a court and put down lines. Altogether, we have courts at the Croc Center, a Tennis Club and 2 skate rings. In Mashpeh, a court was added in a church, and have had 8 players since November. The county has been very receptive to supporting the growth of pickleball. They have provided grants and masking tape to mark pickleball lines on a tennis court.
We have some great pros in the area, some of whom are IPTPA certified trainers, including Sarah Ansboury, Aspen Kern, Christine McGrath and Ben Johns. Some IPTPA-trained folks do Boy Scout programs teaching pickleball. Ben Johns will be teaching pickleball clinics in the fall. Christine, Aspen, Ben and Kyle also did a fundraiser recently.
Most folks here are 3.0/3.5 recreational players. In the area, we have up to 4.5 players, but no 5.0. 4.0s say we focus too much on older folks/recreational. 7 miles from Philadelphia there is an elite group of 4.5 and 5.0 players. Folks from North Jersey have to travel an hour to play with them. I am getting requests to get tournaments going for the 4.5 and 5.0 players, but my strength is introducing pickleball to communities and folks new to pickleball.
Have you ever taken the time to thank an Ambassador for all they do to promote the game of pickleball? If in your travels your path crosses with Denise Donald, please thank her. She is one hard-working USAPA Pickleball Ambassador.