An Exciting Recap of the 1st Indian Open Pickleball Championship

1st Indian Open Pickleball Championship – An Event to Cherish
Please enjoy this report on the 1st Indian Open Pickleball Championship presented by Manish Rao:

1st Indian Open Pickleball Championships

Many of us dream of playing pickleball at the highest level among the best competitors. This is exactly what we Indian players got to experience on October 28-29 at the 1st Indian Open Pickleball Championship held at the Jamnabai Narsee International School in Juhu, Mumbai.

This event, hosted by the All India Pickleball Association (AIPA) and organized by event managers, Sports Wizards, saw many firsts in Indian pickleball. It was the first time Indians had a chance to witness international players at a tournament in their home country. Both groups had an amazing time interacting with each other and sharing their love of pickleball.

The biggest attraction was the squad from Bangkok, Thailand, captained by the group’s passionate mentor, Steve Cable. There were also participants from the USA and UK. We had the pleasure of hosting one of the kindest pickleball souls in the world during the tournament: the one and only Elaine Shallcross from the UK. She’s such an inspiring lady that even at the age of 64, she gave every player a run for their money!

Teaming up with the iconic Atul Edward of India, Elaine bagged the coveted gold in the Mixed Doubles category. She not only showed us her pickleball skills, but her people skills! Elaine’s positive attitude brightened every player’s day. Even for those who didn’t medal, interacting with Elaine felt like being showered in gold dust.

I have to throw out a mention to Emmett Williams from Alaska as well, a gentleman on a business trip to India who stayed back to play at the Open. In spite of the extreme heat and humidity, Emmett was amazing. He freely shared his enjoyment of the game with his Indian partner, and that’s what pickleball is all about! It’s not just the win or the loss, it’s playing to inspire others.

Footage from the Men’s Doubles semifinal featuring Nikhil Singh / Prashant Kalani (Rajasthan) vs Mayur Patil / Ajay Choudhari (Maharashtra)

It’s not easy to conduct back-to-back matches in the extreme heat of Mumbai. We made sure every match had a referee, scorer and linemen for all matches, including the league match. We required many dedicated and skilled volunteers to give their best throughout the event regardless of the tough conditions. The fact that everyone held out is a demonstration of the power of pickleball and the passion surrounding the sport in India.

The event was supported by many sponsors, including PickleballCentral. The national TV channel, Doordarshan, recorded all the finals and were aired a week later. The venue itself was an icon! We appreciate the Jamnabai Narsee Trust for providing us with a world-class facility where setting up 3 courts was possible. It took the event to the next level. Thanks to Mr Sujay Jairaj, the Indian Open saw some amazing competition and great friendships formed.

Every match was on schedule due to the great team effort from Tournament Director Rahul Wani and company. Each event had 16 teams with 4 groups each, meaning a total of 96 players took part in this inaugural event.

The highlights include –

Men’s Doubles:

This was a fight between the traditional rival states of Rajasthan & Maharashtra. Nikhil Rajput / Prashant Kalani beat Manish Rao / Bhushan Potnis 11-7, 5-11,11-5 in a cliffhanger which went to 3 sets. The young and energetic Rajasthan duo kept their nerve and got the better of the “Old Fox” duo from Mumbai. Pickleball itself was a winner too; the match was carried out in a cordial manner off the court while all cylinders were firing on court.

2017 India Open Championship Men's Doubles

2017 India Open Championship Men’s Doubles: With Manish Rao, Mk Pickleball, Bhushan Potnis, Nikhil Singh Rajput and Ajay Chaudhari.

Mixed Doubles:

Atul Edward (India)/Elaine ShallCross (UK) beat Steve Cable/Suprarat (Thailand) 9-11, 11-0, 6-11. After winning the first set, Atul and Elaine let their guard down to be rolled over by Steve / Suprarat 11-0 in the second set. The 3rd set was an amazing contest of skill and mental toughness. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going, and that’s what Atul / Elaine did by utilizing clever tactics and closing on the kill. What a match, with a standing ovation to Elaine for her grit!

2017 India Open Mixed Doubles

2017 India Open Mixed Doubles

Women’s Doubles:

Suprarat & ThitiWorada (Thailand) beat Karishma & Rutuja (India) 11-9, 11-8. The “Smiling Assassins” and “Thailand Duo” showed the importance of teamwork and made the win look easy. The Indian women were overawed by the occasion but still put up a great fight.

The Indian Open was not just about winning or losing. Every participant and organization involved in the planning of this event was a winner. Pickleball has been in India for the last 10 years and this tournament has shown the world that we have arrived in style.

To pull off an event of such magnitude shows that Indian pickleball is in right hands. Our passion and persistence is paying off and we hope to host many more international events!

Mixed Doubles semifinal with Atul Edward (Mumbai, India) / Elain Shallcross (UK) vs Ashwani Kumar Wadhawa & Geetam Sharma (Jaipur, India)

The bar has been set extremely high for the next Indian Open tournaments. We are well on our way to becoming the top pickleball event in Asia. We’d love to welcome even more competitors the next time around!

Meet The Pros – Mario Najera

Meet The Pros – Mario Najera

Mario Najera and Scott Moore - Gold

Duel in the desert in Casa Grande Az. Silver – Steve Cole/Ron Chang, Gold -Scott Moore/Mario Najera  Bronze – Byron Freso

Mario Najera is one humble pickleball competitor, and he also likes to gives back in a big way.  Kudos to Mario and Geri Grodzinsky for running the Nevada Senior Games Pickleball Tournament in October this year. Enjoy!

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?
2017 Grand Canyon Mixed Doubles (MDBL) with Roxanne Pierce 60+  – Gold
2016 USAPA Nationals – MDBL 60+ with Cookie Drake – Silver
2016 Sin City Showdown, Las Vegas, MDBL 60+ with Cooke Drake – Silver
2016 Duel in the Desert Men DBL with Scott Moore  – Gold
2013 MDBL with wife Geri – Silver.  This was my favorite win and my first 4.5 tournament!

What paddle do you play with and why?

I play with the Selkirk S1G Polymer Graphite paddle. I’m a touch player, coming from racquetball. I prefer the soft, touch game to the power game.  This paddle is the best I’ve found for touch. I can really feel the ball with this paddle.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

I started playing in August 2011. I’m a racquetball addict. My wife invited me to come play at an indoor place. I learned to play with a wood paddle. It was fun. I was impressed by how friendly everyone was – quite different from racquetball fanatics. A couple of months later, I was invited to compete at the Huntsman Senior Games. That was a rude awakening. I was beaten badly. I stayed to watch some of the top players, like Jim Hackenberg and Mark Friedenberg. Got hooked and didn’t look back.

What’s your preference – playing indoors or outdoors?

I first learned playing the game indoors, but I love the outdoor game better. I was raised in San Diego. I’m a So Cal boy. The outdoor game is definitely a faster game.

Mario Najera and Steve Paranto

Mario Najera and Steve Paranto

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

I like doubles. I wouldn’t say it was a nice transfer from racquetball. The mechanics and strokes are very different. But I like the cat and mouse of the pickleball doubles game. I enjoy strategizing with my teammate. I do love watching singles though.

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

My favorite place to play is St. George, Utah. It is the first town where I fell in love with pickleball. It’s 2 hours away from where I live.  I love the Little Valley courts where 24 courts are available. And I love Bend, Oregon and Apex too! They have beautiful courts.  

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

My secret sauce is my lob! I watched Enrique Ruiz to learn the most effective lob. To get better, I suggest finding someone to drill with.  It’s very important to practice through drills. Also, try to play with a stronger player. It helps you deal with the pressure of competing in a tournament setting.

What’s your day job?

I’ve been retired for five years from a 35 year career in banking.

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

Most players in Vegas still work, so my time on the court is restricted by their work schedule. I play 3-4 days a week, about 8 hours. I have a buddy, Pete, who likes to drill with me.

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

Not really. I try to keep everything in perspective. I stay pretty calm. I feel lucky to be out there playing, and win or lose, I’m still loving the game.  It keeps me healthy.

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?

Geri Grodzinsky and Mario Najera

Geri Grodzinsky and Mario Najera

Never say no. My wife, Geri Grodzinsky, is a USAPA Ambassador in Las Vegas. She has been instrumental in growing pickleball here. Geri is a person who gets things done and she gets people like me involved.  She holds clinics and shares the sport. I want to continue teaching and helping to grow pickleball here as well. I want to keep healthy too. I want to make more time to play pickleball with my wife, who is as hooked on the game as I am.

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

My wife and I became RV’ers, so we are gone 3 months out of the year. I do clinics and  personal lessons in various states. I’m glad to give back and help others in the pickleball community. That doesn’t happen in racquetball. You can’t just show up for racquetball, you have to find someone ahead of time to play the game. In pickleball, everywhere you go, you just show up, and  people are ready to play pickleball. 

Meet The Pros – Dominic Catalano

Meet The Pros – Dominic Catalano

Dominic Catalano and JoAnne Russell

Dominic Catalano and JoAnne Russell

Dominic Catalano lives for this wonderful sport! He plays, he competes, he’s a USAPA Ambassador and he owns his own pickleball business where he gives instruction and runs tournaments and leagues. Enjoy his story!

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

2017 US Open, 35+ Men’s Doubles with Phil Metz- Silver
2016 Atlantic South Regional, Singles – Gold
2016 US Open, 4.5 Mixed Doubles with JoAnne Russell- Gold
2016 US Open, 35+ Singles – Gold
2016 US Open, 19+ Men’s Doubles with Joshua Elliott- Bronze
2016 US Open, 4.5 Men’s Doubles with Scott Smith – Bronze

What paddle do you play with and why?

I play with the Engage Elite Pro.  I was using the Engage Encore X Series all the way through the 2017 US Open this past season and then switched to the Engage Elite Pro right after and haven’t looked back.  It has a great balance of touch and power that is perfect for my game.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

I was introduced to the game up in my hometown of Chicago. While in Chicago I was a high school physical education teacher at Notre Dame College Prep and we were the only school in our area that was teaching pickleball in our curriculum. So my first few years playing pickleball was teaching the sport in my classes. Over time, I started to enjoy pickleball!!  In 2013 I moved to Naples, Florida, taking a job with local Parks and Recreation Department. We did not have pickleball at the park, so I had 4 courts painted on 2 of our tennis courts and started the program with 15 people. When I left the that job to concentrate on my pickleball company this past summer, we had over 300 members at the park.

Dominic Catalano in Blue

Dominic Head to Toe in Blue

What’s your preference – playing indoor or outdoor?

I prefer to play outdoors every day of the week! I just think the game was meant to be played outside on an actual pickleball court. When you play inside, everything is different (the ball, the lighting, the courts).  Plus, outside you have to deal with all of the elements too like wind. Which as any pickleball player know, can play havoc with the ball, but I like the challenge!

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

If I had to choose, I would say I like doubles better. I like the team aspect of doubles and especially when you gel so well with a partner. It makes winning that much more special. I was blessed to play mixed doubles with JoAnne Russell (former Wimbledon champion) for a few years and we just worked so well together! We always knew where each other was going to be at all times. It’s tough to find someone like that and someone that is as competitive as me, but with JoAnne it was easy!

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

Without a doubt, anywhere down here in Southwest Florida! We have some of the best facilities in the country! From the Bonita Springs YMCA to East Naples Community Park (host site for the US Open) to Veterans Community Park and all the private communities in between, we are never short of some great pickleball facilities in my area!

Dominic coordinated Head to Toe including paddle

Dominic coordinated Head to Toe including paddle

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

Well now what kind of player would I be if I gave away my “secret sauce”?!?! Seriously though, I believe that one of the most important things in our game is consistency. Whether it be at the Pro Level or the 2.5 level, the name of the game is consistency. The best way to build up that consistency is by drilling. It’s great to come out and get those competitive juices flowing while playing games, but there is no substitute for some good drill work! Also, confidence helps. No matter who is on the other side of the net, mentally you tell yourself you are the best player on the court!!

What’s your day job?

I own my own pickleball company named 3D Pickleball. The “3D” stands for Dedication, Determination, and DOMination!!  I give lessons and clinics all over SW Florida as well as run 2 tournaments: the 3D Pickleball Turkey Classic in November and the 3D Pickleball Cupid Shootout in February I also run some ladder leagues and flex leagues. It definitely keeps me busy! How could I ever complain being on the pickleball court all the time? I was a baseball player and coach by trade but have traded in my glove for a pickleball paddle and have not looked back!!

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

I would have to say I play about 10 – 15 hours a week. Yet luckily for me, when I’m working, I’m still on the court giving lessons or clinics so I’m constantly with a paddle in my hand working on things with my students. We are blessed with some of the top players in our sport that live down here in Southwest Florida. We set aside certain days and times to get together to play and drill. We are kind of spoiled when it comes to that kind of top level play!!

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

Anyone that knows me knows that I’m very particular about what I wear. I always have to match from head to toe and that includes my paddle.  So my rituals start at home with picking out what I’m wearing for that particular day at that tournament. If it wasn’t for Pickleboat (my clothing sponsor) and Engage (my paddle sponsor), it would make things much more difficult but because they let me pick my color combos with clothes and paddles it makes my life that much easier! Lastly, you will always see me with my headphones on before a tournament starts and it’s only playing one song, the Game of Thrones theme song! I guess I’m kind of a nerd like that, haha!!

Dominic coordinated in neon yellow

Dominic coordinated in neon yellow

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?

As a pickleball player I just want to continue to improve each and every time I step on the court. I make sure that every time I’m out there I have something in particular that I am going to work on that day. As an instructor and an ambassador for the sport I just want to continue to grow the game! Going to tournaments and competing on courts next to my students and seeing them have success makes me just as satisfied as when I medal in a tournament. To see the excitement on their face is priceless!

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

Where I’m at right now in pickleball gives me the opportunity to spread the word about our great sport. It allows me to help so many people improve their game of pickleball as well as promote a healthy lifestyle for many, who without pickleball would not be getting much physical activity!

Meet The Pros – Doug Koch

Meet The Pros – Doug Koch

Doug Koch

Doug Koch Grand Canyon Senior Games with Roxanne Pierce

Doug Koch does it all: brings home the medals, organizes high level play all over Northern California  and runs his own teaching business, Pickleball Pimp. Enjoy!

12-time Medalist in Huntsman World Senior Games including 2 Singles Gold Medals
5-time Medalist in USAPA Nationals in Men’s Doubles, Mixed Doubles, & Singles
2014 SoCal Classic 50+ Men’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles – Gold Medalist

What paddle do you play with and why?

I play with the Selkirk Omni 31P XO Glen Peterson signature paddle. It has a great feel which allows for precision placement and plenty of power plus the extra length allows hitting sharper angles on volleys and overheads.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

My brother Jimmy from Colorado played a few times when visiting his in-laws in Surprise, AZ. He brought some balls & paddles to my daughter’s high school graduation. We tied a badminton net to 2 garbage cans, chalked out a court in my driveway, and wound up playing all weekend. I was hooked!! I started playing with a local group in Grass Valley and soon was playing 5 times a week.

What’s your preference: playing indoor or outdoor?

I do a lot of teaching indoors and play indoors on rainy days but you can’t beat playing outdoors on a nice day!

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

I enjoy both. I enjoy the amount of running and the battle of wills that is the singles game and the teamwork and strategy of the doubles game.

Rob Schmidt/Doug Koch Silver

Rob Schmidt, Doug Koch, Silver – 2016 Grand Canyon Senior Games

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

Johnson Ranch Racquet Club in Roseville, CA where I am one of the teaching pros. I love the great competition and the comfort level of having played thousands of games there. My favorite tournament is the SoCal Classic in Encinitas, CA. It is a great location near the beach in the summertime, well run, great competition.

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

I was fortunate when I was getting started that I got to play & drill with many strong players and teachers: Prem Carnot, Wendy Garrido, Matthew Blom, Steve Wong, Alan Christensen, Ian & Kim Dickson and the Johnson Ranch crew. I tried to learn from everyone better than I was and figured out how to try to make it a little harder for them to beat me (and bruise me).

2014 Grand Canyon State Games - Doug Koch/Roxanne Pierce, Gold

2014 Grand Canyon State Games – Doug Koch/Roxanne Pierce, Gold

What’s your day job?

I was a software engineer for 30+ years.  My 2nd career is pickleball teaching pro, Pickleball Pimp, which is something completely different.

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

I teach about 15 hours per week and play about the same.

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

Not really, I’m not very superstitious.

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?

As a teacher, I would like to help continue the growth of pickleball by teaching adult & junior players. I would also like to try to become a better player and teammate.

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

Pickleball is great exercise, let’s you hang out with the nicest people in the world, and is just plain FUN!!

Meet The Pros – Rick Witsken

Meet The Pros – Rick Witsken

 

Rick Witsken

Rick Witsken

Rick has a real passion for tennis and the game of pickleball.  He is growing a pickleball program in Indianapolis that he is proud of because he is saving lives.  Enjoy.

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

2017 US Open, Men’s Doubles 45+ with John Moorin – Gold
2017 Great Lakes Regional, Men’s Singles 5.0 – Gold
2016 US Open, Men’s Doubles Pro with Matt Schiller – Bronze
NW Regional – Open Mixed Doubles Open and Men’s Doubles Open – Silver

Rick Witsken - Gold

Great Lakes Regional, Men’s Singles 5.0, Will Willson /Silver, Rick Witsken/Gold and David Seckel/Bronze

What paddle do you play with and why?

I play with the Bantam Ex-L. It is light weight, with a nice solid sweet spot and core.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

I was introduced to pickleball about 2 ½ years ago. John Kirstin talked to me about playing. I loved ping pong. I grew up with 7 siblings, including 4 brothers, so I grew up competitive. I’ve always wanted a sport like ping pong and tennis, so when pickleball was introduced, I was very interested. I have a built-in camaraderie with other tennis players. I’m intrigued by the administrative side of tournaments. I have a nice facility and know there are lots of competitive folks around. I put on lots of tennis tournaments and wanted to bring pickleball tournaments to Indianapolis. I have offered 2 pickleball tournaments so far. I’ve also coordinated a Pickleball Powwow Clinic with exhibition games with players Chris Zeilinga, John Moorin, Matt Schiller and myself.

What’s your preference – playing indoor or outdoor?

I prefer the faster, up tempo game that indoor games provide. I don’t mind the challenge of outdoor play. Outdoors is more of a finesse game.

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

Singles at 40 is harder because the competition is so much younger these days, especially in 80 degrees with high humidity like at the US Open in Naples, Florida. 

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

My favorite place to play is at my tennis facility, Pearson Automotive Tennis Club in Zionsville, Indiana. We have over 100 players and it’s growing by leaps and bounds.  I’ve put in lots of volunteer hours to introduce pickleball and have reaped lots of benefits from the game.

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

I play with both hands, which my opponents do not expect. One tip I can share: Be mindful of how you’re gripping your paddle handle. A lot of players hold the grip the same way throughout the game. You can improve your game if you vary how you grip the handle. If it’s a faster game, then tighten the grip. If slower, then loosen it. It’s also based on pace and how far back in the court you are. I have a scale of 1-5: 1 being light as a feather and 5, tight as a vise.

Pearson Automotive Tennis Club's Grand Opening on March 4, 2017

Pearson Automotive Tennis Club’s Grand Opening on March 4, 2017 – Derek Mandel, Adam Mandel and Rick Witsken

What’s your day job?

I am the owner and director of my own tennis facility mentioned earlier. I coach tennis and teach pickleball. Adding pickleball has been an important improvement to the tennis club business model.

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

I currently play in tennis leagues and coach some of the top 10 emerging tennis players, so my time playing pickleball is limited to about 3 hours a week. My priority is to run my tennis club, so I don’t get to travel much on the tournament circuit.

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?

As my tennis club and pickleball program get more established, my goal is to compete in more national tournaments. I hope to gain recognition as being one of the top 10 pickleball players in the U.S.

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

I’m coaching two middle school pickleball teams right now. I am passionate about spreading the word about pickleball. I realize I am saving lives by getting folks active in a sport that everyone can play. It gives me great satisfaction to help people and at the same time, to save lives.

Meet The Pros – Ben Johns

Meet The Pros – Ben Johns

There is no doubt that Ben Johns is a fierce competitor.  

 

Ben Johns - Fierce!

Ben Johns – Fierce!

 

Ben Johns fiercer

Ben Johns – Fiercer!!

Ben Johns - Fiercest

Ben Johns – FIERCEST!!!!

Ben can be an intimidating contender who brings his tennis “tenacity” to his pickleball game. Watch out for him at Nationals this year. Enjoy!

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

2017 US Open Pro Men’s Singles – Gold
2017 US Open Pro Men’s Doubles – Bronze
2017 US Open Men’s Doubles 19+ – Silver
2017 US Open Mixed Doubles 19+ – Bronze
2017 SoCal Summer Classic Men’s Doubles 19+ – Gold
2017 SoCal Summer Classic Men’s Doubles Pro – Silver
2017 SoCal Summer Classic Mixed Doubles Pro – Bronze
2017 SoCal Summer Classic Men’s Singles Pro – Gold
2017 Canadian Nationals Mixed Doubles Pro – Gold
2017 Canadian Nationals Men’s Doubles Pro – Gold
2017 Canadian Nationals Men’s Singles Pro – Gold
2017 PPF Zone Bend Men’s Doubles Pro – Gold
2017 PPF Zone Bend Mixed Doubles Pro – Silver
2017 PPF Zone Bend Men’s Singles Pro – Silver

What paddle do you play with and why?

I play with the Elite Pro from Engage Pickleball because it provides the maximum amount of spin and power. I also love how I can really feel the ball on the paddle.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

I first played pickleball in Estero, Florida in February 2016. The Bella Terra Community built pickleball courts right next to the tennis courts where I played tennis with my brother. I saw pickleball played while I was hitting and thought it looked like fun, so I gave it a try and loved it!

What’s your preference – playing indoors or outdoors?

I like outdoors way better. It’s much more dynamic and difficult to play than indoors. Indoors uses a very soft ball that is too easy to control.

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

I love playing both doubles and singles because of the change in strategy and shots, but I do enjoy doubles more. There’s more variability in the game and the points last longer.

Ben Johns/Joey Farias - Gold,

Kyle Yates/Wes Gabrielsen – Silver, Ben Johns/Joey Farias – Gold, Chris Miller/Tyler Loong – Bronze at the Professional Pickleball Federation Tournament, Bend, Oregon

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

My favorite place to play are the first courts I ever played on, the Bella Terra Community courts. I like them because they’re the most familiar to me.

Clinic at Bella Terra Community Courts

Clinic at Bella Terra Community Courts

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

I don’t really have a secret sauce, but for players that want to improve, my biggest tip is practice smart. Always practice your fundamentals like dinking and 3rd shot drops. Even if you’re not successful with them for a while, you’re going to improve faster than everyone that doesn’t practice them. If you’re playing with lower level players, experiment, try new shots, and don’t worry about winning.

What’s your day job?

I don’t have a regular job, but I do teach pickleball quite a bit.

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

How much I play a week very much depends on where I’m at. While I’m in Florida I might play 10 hours a week. While I’m in Maryland it’s probably between 0-3.  I make time to play just by getting everything else I have to get done on schedule.

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

I wouldn’t say I have any “lucky” rituals. For me it’s all about preparation. Lots of practice leading up to the tournament helps along with eating well, getting a lot of sleep, etc.

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?

My main goal is winning gold in Men’s Doubles Pro at one of the big three tournaments: U.S. Open, Tournament of Champions and USAPA Nationals.

Aspen Kern posted on Facebook, “I was asked this week who I least liked going up against, and I answered ‘Ben Johns.'”  You will definitely be a witness to some fierce pickleball if you get to see Ben compete.   Thanks, Ben!

Pickleball Hall of Fame – And the Nominees Are…

It is time to recognize the people who have made huge contributions to the growth and popularity of the game of pickleball. The new Pickleball Hall of Fame has been created to recognize the “best of the best,” the best competitors, the best volunteers, the best creative minds in the international sport of pickleball. The Pickleball Hall of Fame has invited the pickleball community to nominate exceptional individuals who deserve recognition. You are invited to attend the Hall of Fame Dinner in Casa Grande, Arizona on Friday, November 10th at 8:00 pm, following the USAPA National Championships.  

The Pickleball Hall of Fame Nominating Committee has chosen ten individuals as finalists. The 2017 Nominees in alphabetical order are:

Bill Bell

Bill Bell

Bill Bell

Bill Bell was a successful businessman. He obtained the nickel concession for International Nickel and spent a lot of time traveling in Indonesia. Bill and his family were regular guests of Joel Pritchard. During one of his two-week stays at the cottage in 1965, that’s when the game of pickleball was invented. It was Bill and Joel who tried out different plastic balls that first day. He and Joel invented the game of pickleball, but right away they invited Barney McCallum to be a partner in Pickle-Ball, Inc.

Joel, Barney and Bill wrote the first set of official rules for the game that first two weeks. During his international travels, he would ask Barney McCallum to send a complimentary set to someone Bell met in his travels, helping the game of pickleball to grow internationally.

 

Mark “Yoda” Friedenburg

Mark Friedenberg

Mark “Yoda” Friedenberg

Mark “Yoda” Friedenberg has been competing for 40 years and is a USAPA National Gold Medal Champion. He was involved in the USAPA early on as a board member and became the first president of the new USAPA in 2005. He has continued to serve on the USAPA Ratings and Rankings Committee.  He owned and operated the  Pro-Lite Sports company continuing the legacy begun by Arlen Paranto of producing quality composite pickleball paddles.

Mark has been a mainstay in pickleball as a pickleball pro, a stellar tournament organizer, a premier pickleball instructor and author of “The Official Pickleball Handbook”.  On the court he has always conducted himself with class and a great sense of humor.  He has showed great prowess as competitor in tournaments and has often medaled against some of the best competition in the nation. He has earned the name “Yoda” for his skill in the game and in his work as an instructor. Our sport would not be what it is today without the impact of competitor Mark “Yoda” Friedenberg.

Alice “Jo” Hancock

Jo Hancock

Jo Hancock at the 2016 USAPA Nationals

The heart of every pickleball event is found in the dedicated volunteers. Jo Hancock has taught pickleball at Willow Canyon High School in Surprise Arizona for many years. When Earl Hill started a USAPA membership drive, she was the first to sign up. She has consistently demonstrated great sportsmanship, and always had room for one more at her house. Jo is “creme de la creme” in the world of pickleball tournaments!  When members of Arizona Traditions pickleball club decided it was time to organize the first Senior Olympics, Jo was there helping organized volunteers and finding homes for players to stay during the tournament. These kinds of big events couldn’t happen without volunteer referees. Jo made herself available to referee or serve as linesman in every tournament she entered. Jo has been a terrific competitor as well. She won 149 medals in the 15 years of competing in pickleball tournaments. Some of her best wins were at The Huntsman National Senior Games and The USAPA Nationals.  Everybody knows Jo Hancock.

Billy Jacobsen

Billy Jacobsen

Billy Jacobsen, 2009 USAPA Nationals

Billy Jacobsen’s name is synonymous with “Pickleball Pro”. Everybody knows Billy. He has played in at least one pickleball tournament a year for 35 years in a row. That is quite a rare distinction! This is what nominator Wes Gabrielsen has to say about Billy Jacobsen:  “Despite some physical challenges, including hearing loss and chronic Type 1 diabetes, Billy Jacobsen dominated in pickleball tournaments for many years. Billy was a successful high school and college tennis player, eventually playing for the University of Washington Tennis team. His stellar tennis skills transferred easily to pickleball and he began to find tremendous success on the court. Due to his impressive performances, medal finishes, the grit he shows by playing through some tough physical limitations exemplify why he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. The history of pickleball cannot be written without including Billy’s name and accomplishments with it.

Robert (Bob) Lanius

Bob Lanius

Bob Lanius, photo credit: Pickleball Channel

Robert “Bob” Lanius, owner and developer of the Pickleball Tournaments website started working on medical research systems development while still in college. He graduated with in the first Computer Science BA class from the University of Texas in Austin. Bob continued working in developing medical research and hospital information systems through the ’80s.  He worked for Microsoft as a consultant in the ’90s from the Dallas office and relocated to Redmond, Washington as a project manager for international clients. After Microsoft, Bob started his own consulting business.

Bob and  his wife Jettye were introduced to pickleball in 2000. Their RV travels took them all over the country, organizing events and spreading the word of pickleball.  They eventually settled in the Happy Trails community in Surprise, Arizona. Bob designed the Happy Trails Pickleball Club website in 2004, where he reported complete tournament results and events around the country.  He has served as commissioner for the Arizona Senior Olympics and Grand Canyon State Games. Bob’s  PickleballTournaments system has been used to manage hundreds of pickleball tournaments in the USA and worldwide.

Barney McCallum

Barney McCallum

Barney McCallum

Barney McCallum graduated from the University of Washington in 1950. He had $10, half a tank of gas and one job offer – selling envelopes. He was a top-notch salesman at the Griffin Envelope Company. He eventually ventured out on his own firm named McCallum Envelope Company & Printing Co. Barney’s past accomplishments include several patents. He had a knack for determining a need and filling a niche. On Bainbridge Island, when Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell decided to go into business together to produce pickleball equipment, they knew they needed help and both agreed they needed Barney, so they walked right over to his house and enlisted him in their new project, Pickle-Ball Inc.

Barney was the driver of equipment development – figuring out how to cut paddles, what wood to use, where to buy everything. He experimented with all kinds of materials for paddles. He worked diligently in helping to create the rules and was the major force, with Jim Weller, behind creating the double bounce and non-volley zone rules. Barney personally composed a one-page set of rules included in each $29.50 retail set that started the explosive growth of this new game of pickleball. He set up a business relationship with Cosom for the pickleballs and hired NW Center of Handicap in Seattle to make the wood paddles. He and his wife Carol attended trade shows to promote the game.

Barney said the great thing about pickleball is the good balance between offense and defense. Barney proudly shared, “…the biggest pleasure for me about the game, besides meeting a lot of wonderful people, is seeing people not involved in any athletics at all taking up the game.  I have people tell me how pickleball changed their lives, how they never did a thing with sports before but they can play pickleball. That’s quite a reward.”

Arlen Paranto

Arlen Paranto

Arlen Paranto

Arlen Paranto is a retired Boeing engineer. He grew up in a small town in South Dakota where he learned early the importance of being able to fix everything himself. Arlen went to work for Boeing in the early 50’s. He worked his way up through the machine shops to supervising engineer without a college education. He was Supervisor of the Year in 1986. Arlen was always coming up with ways to fix things and make them better, which led to his being made head of  the Cost Savings Division at Boeing. Arlen got involved with pickleball in the early 80’s. This was the time when Sid Williams was forming the United States “Amateur” Pickleball Association.

Arlen loved the sport so much, and knew he could make the sport even more fun.  Soon, he was making prototype paddles using space age material that Boeing used as floor paneling in their jet aircraft. The honeycomb core made the paddles lighter than wood and gave them a bigger sweet spot. The first composite pickleball paddle made it easier for all skill levels to enjoy the sport at a all levels. This prototype paddle became the Pro-lite paddle company.  Arlen made the first composite paddles in his garage in Eatonville, Washington. He was also on the first committee to come up with the rule book for tournament play and helped design portable net systems. With his new composite paddle, he competed in the Washington State Senior games, and continued to play into his early 80’s. He still enjoys keeping up with the sport and is truly amazed with the growth of the sport and the level of today’s play.

Joel Pritchard

Joel Pritchard

Joel Pritchard

Joel Pritchard was a delegate to the Republic National Convention in 1956 that nominated Dwight Eisenhower for President. That began his political career. He was a six-term U.S. Representative from Seattle from 1959-1967 and a two-term Washington Lt. Governor 1989-1997. Despite all his political accomplishments, the game with a funny name, pickleball, may carry his widest-reaching legacy.

Along with a few of his friends, Joel Pritchard invented the game of pickleball at his house in 1965. After playing golf one Saturday during the summer, Joel Pritchard, congressman from Washington State and Bill Bell, successful businessman, returned to Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island, WA to find their families sitting around with nothing to do. The property had an old badminton court so Pritchard and Bell looked for some badminton equipment and could not find a full set of rackets. They improvised and started playing with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. At first they placed the net at badminton height of 60 inches and volleyed the ball over the net. As the weekend progressed, the players found that the ball bounced well on the asphalt surface and soon the net was lowered to 36 inches. The following weekend, Barney McCallum was introduced to the game at Pritchard’s home. Soon, the three men created rules, relying heavily on badminton. They kept in mind the original purpose, which was to provide a game that the whole family could play together (USAPA History of the Game).

Joel Pritchard and several friends filed articles of incorporation for Pickle-Ball, Inc. in 1968. Joel introduced pickleball to his fellow legislators, and organized social events like softball and pickleball for House members. He attended many of the tournaments in Seattle/Tacoma area when his scheduled allowed. According to Sid Williams,” Joel was always gracious and presented the awards to the players.” Sid presented him with a plaque, “The Father of Pickleball,” to honor all his work promoting pickleball.

Martha Wassermann

Martha Wasserman

Martha Wasserman

Martha was introduced to pickleball in 2002 and became a community pickleball organizer for seven years. She is known for both her competitive spirit and exemplary sportsmanship. She started playing in tournaments in 2003, and has proven to be a formidable opponent. Martha was one of the first two female players in Arizona that moved up to the 5.0 level of tournament play. She won Gold in USAPA National tournaments from 2006-2009. Martha volunteered to help the USAPA with entry of Tournament Results and has served on the USAPA Rating Committee.  She is currently working to grow pickleball where she lives in Michigan by hosting a clinic and pursuing the re-purposing of some High School tennis courts.

Martha has coordinated fund raisers to purchase pickleballs for her local club. She was instrumental in developing a schedule for ladder, round robin and drop-in play. Martha’s organizational skills helped her club design and build their first dedicated courts. Membership exploded with the dedicated courts and over time 10 more courts were added.   Martha traveled to South Africa where she introduced the game of pickleball to children at the Open Arms Orphanage.

Sid Williams

Sid Williams

Sid Williams

In 1980, Sid Williams was employed as a civilian at McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington. When Sid was introduced to pickleball, he thought it was a “wimpy” sport. “I found out differently, once I got out on the court,” Williams said. “I was sore for two days. It’s a good workout, a good aerobic exercise…”  (source The Seattle Times, 8/24/1990) Anyone who played pickleball in the Seattle/Tacoma area, especially in the early years, would have known Sid Williams and his passion for pickleball. Many feel Sid is one of the key people that brought the game of pickleball out from the family backyard and into national recognition.

In 1982 he started organizing tournaments and teaching pickleball. He had extensive experience doing the same in racquetball and remarked: “Teaching racquetball and teaching pickleball is not that much different – just demonstrate what the sport is about.” His goal was to make pickleball a recognizable household word worldwide. He was the first Executive Director and President of US Amateur Pickleball Association and served from 1984 to 1998. The name was changed to the US America Pickleball Association (USAPA), which was organized to promote the growth and development of pickleball. During his tenure, the USAPA developed a ranking system, expanded the official rules, offered free instructional clinics and seminars, promoted pickleball at inter-collegiate and intramural levels of competition, published a quarterly newsletter and began establishing representatives to cover the sport at the national level. He continued his involvement in pickleball until 1995.

Many thanks to the pickleball community members who presented these candidates for consideration. We honor  and greatly appreciate all of these ten nominees for their contributions to the growth and popularity of the game of pickleball.