Middletown – Pickleball Capital of Ohio

Middletown – Pickleball Capitol of Ohio

Middletown loves pickleball, and based on the claim they made in the local newspaper, their town has the most pickleball courts in the entire state: 16 total with 2 more on the way. (This is one more than Mentor, OH.)

With plenty of volunteer and community support for the game, the Middletown Community Fund gave the association a $1,500 grant last year to aid in expanding the courts, said Traci Barnett, executive director.

The association hosted the 12th annual Middletown Senior Pickleball Tournament on August 1-3. Open-aged singles played first followed by senior players (50 and older) playing doubles and mixed doubles.

The tournament had a record 268 registered players from eight states. Five years ago, the tournament drew 112 players.

Are there more “Pickleball Capitals” out there? Let’s start a “Bragging Rights” post.

Is your town the pickleball capital of your state? Tell us why.

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!

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

Meet The Pros – Tony Girodo

Meet The Pros – Tony Girodo

Tony Girodo with Linda Dillon

Tony is a full-time RV’er, so he gets to play pickleball with folks from all over. He must have a fantastic array of pickleball friends. Enjoy!

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

2019 National Senior Games Mixed Doubles with Sandy Scanlan – Silver
2019 Wickenburg Ranch Men’s Doubles Age – Gold

2019 Grand Canyon State Games Mixed Doubles Skill/Age with Sandy Scanlan – Gold
2019 Robson Ranch, Mixed Doubles Skill/Age with Sandy Scanlan – Silver
2018 Margaritaville USAPA Nationals, Mixed Skill/Age Doubles with Sandy Scanlan – Silver
2018 US OPEN Men’s Doubles Age with Bob Costanza – Gold
            Mixed Doubles – Skill with Connie Reker – Bronze
2018 Happy Trails, Mixed Doubles Skill/Age with Sandy Scanlan – Gold
2018 Duel in the Desert, Men’s Doubles Skill/Age with Doug Cook – Gold
2017 Round Up@ Sun City AZ, Men’s Doubles Skill/Age with Bill Marshall – Gold

Tony Girodo Gold

2016 🌵🏅Duel in the Desert🏅🌵 Mixed Doubles Age/Skill Groups 65+: 4.0, GOLD Audrey Sherfey and Tony Girodo, SILVER Terry Saunders and James Saunders BRONZE Diane Hill and Donald Bangs

What paddle do you play with and why?

I currently play with the Tempest Wave. I used to play with an original Paddletek pickleball paddle, no model name, and had it for about 7 years.

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

Ten and a half years ago my wife and I started RV’ing. At our first stop in Palm Springs I kept hearing this “ping – ping – ping” sound and went to investigate. I was invited to play, and the rest is history. I have a tennis and racquetball background. My wife plays recreationally. Pickleball has turned out to be a great social sport. We’ve made a lot of good friends. No matter where we go, we find people who play pickleball.

What is your preference – playing indoors or outdoors?

Ninety-five percent of the time I play outdoors.

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

I prefer doubles. I may venture into singles at some time in the future.

Tony Girodo, bronze

Marriott Desert Ridge Holiday Classic December 1, 2017 Men’s Doubles 70+ 4.5: Gold: Barry Jeff Stone & Malcolm Derr, Silver: Jim Saunders & Brian Parkes, Bronze: Tony Girodo & Doug Cook

What is your favorite place to play? Why?

Indian Wells is my favorite place this year, also Happy Trails and Pebble Creek. The Surprise, Arizona area has 16 public area courts that are great. They may be expanding the number of courts in the future.

What is your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

I have a supportive spouse, and that really helps. It also helps to get the right partner. Get one who plays like you or better. Make sure you drill all the time and seek to play with better, skilled folks. This builds confidence. It helps to use a Sports Tutor machine to practice drills.

What is your day job?

I am a full-time RV’er with my wife. Just recently visited Portland, Maine and the beach in New Jersey.

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

I play 2-3 hours a day, 15-20 hours a week. I usually take a day off during the week to let my body heal. Thankfully, I ‘ve had no major injuries.

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

I pet our dog “Mojo,” a schnauzer who gives me big “MOJO.” 

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

My current goal is to medal at the USAPA Nationals.

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

This is a great game to play and for meeting new friends. I keep playing to keep active. Eighty percent of my commitment to the game is so that I can continue to eat ice cream! I try to improve every day. I suggest working on 1 or 2 things at a time, like dinks, lobs and 3rd shot drops. That’s the best way to improve your game, in my opinion. 

Meet The Pros – Gregg Whitfield

Meet The Pros – Gregg Whitfield

Gregg is retiring so that he can TEACH PICKLEBALL! Awesome! And he brings his tennis techniques into the pickleball training equation. Enjoy!

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?
2019 U S Open: Silver in Men’s 60+ Doubles with Joe Nguyen
Gold in Mixed 65+ with Hilary Marold, Bronze in 65+ Singles

2018 U S Open 65+ Mixed 5.0 Gold with Carolyn Bagley
Silver Men’s Doubles Skill 60+ with Steve Paranto

Steve Paranto and Gregg Whitfield

2018 US OPEN, Steve Paranto and Gregg Whitfield – Silver

2018 Pasadena Senior Games Gold in Men’s Doubles, Silver in Mixed, Gold in Singles
2018 So Cal Classic Gold in 60+ Men’s Doubles
2018 West Regionals Gold in Men’s Doubles 60+, Gold in Mixed 60+, Gold in Singles 60+
2018 Huntsman Senior Games: Gold in Men’s 65+, Gold in Mixed 65+, Gold in Singles 65+
2018 USAPA Nationals Bronze in Mixed 65+
2018 Southwest Regionals Gold in Men’s Doubles 65+, Gold in Mixed 65+, Silver in Singles 65+
2018 Grand Canyon State Games Gold in Men’s Doubles 60+
2016 Nationals 55+ 5.0 Mixed Bronze with Kathy Pederson

What paddle do you play with and why?

I’m a sponsored player with Paddletek and play with the Tempest Pro because it’s a great all-around paddle that allows for soft touch drop shots and still has power when needed.

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

My background was in tennis. I played through high school and college where I played #1 for Occidental College. I taught tennis under David Reed, who played with Arthur Ashe at UCLA, and Sven Davidson, who played in 4 Grand Slam Finals winning two titles. I became the head tennis pro at Altadena Town and Country Club in the early 1980s. In 2016 I found pickleball at a local club in Cambria, CA and became addicted to the sport.

What is your preference – playing indoors or outdoors?

I prefer outdoor play as the visibility is better for me and I live in California where we have nice weather year round.

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

I prefer doubles because singles is so physically demanding, especially as we age. Doubles allows one to develop a soft game where you can play with players at all levels.

Gregg Whitfield

Gregg Whitfield

What is your favorite place to play? Why?

My home town of Cambria has 6 newer beautiful dedicated courts. The weather is great being 65 to 70 degrees year round. 25 miles to the east is Paso Robles where it can reach 105 during the summer. So I love my home town.

What is your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

My advice is to learn the two basic spins that all top level players use: topspin and under spin. These 2 techniques are required for tennis teaching professionals. The two techniques are the basics of the drive and drop shots.

What is your day job?

I am retiring from a home painting contractor business and developing a website on teaching pickleball.

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

Being semi-retired allows ample time to play, so I get in about 20 hours per week.

Gregg Whitfield - Dink Drills

Gregg Whitfield – Dink Drills

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament? 

Train with drills in your weekly play and develop all of the shots from hard drives to soft drop shots.

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

One of my goals was to win gold at either the USAPA Nationals or US Open Pickleball Championships in the 5.0 division. I have medals in both with 2 gold medals at the US Open. Now my goal is to finish my training website which is focused on teaching different shots and strategies so players of all levels can play a better game and have fun with great friendships and exercise.

2019 US OPEN 60+ men's doubles: Ted Meyer/Gary Miller - Bronze, Jim Hackenberg/Dan McLaughlin - Gold, Joe Nguyen/Gregg Whitfield - Silver

2019 US OPEN 60+ men’s doubles: Ted Meyer/Gary Miller – Bronze, Jim Hackenberg/Dan McLaughlin – Gold, Joe Nguyen/Gregg Whitfield – Silver

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

My background in tennis was a great benefit. In tennis, the young guns could hit very fast serves where my skill set forced me to block the return of serve back. All top tennis players know how to have a very short backswing which allows a small compact technique to easily block the ball back and keep it in play. This technique is as simple as you getting to the ball and catching it with your hand. I start players out by hitting a serve to them and asking them to catch the ball with their hitting hand. First, that requires moving to the ball. Then, when catching the ball, there is no backswing and large follow through. From the basic skill, players quickly learn how to hit the ball back over the net and get it in play. Keeping the motion simple is the key to becoming a good player.

Meet The Pros – Dan McLaughlin

Meet The Pros – Dan McLaughlin

Dan McLaughlin Action

Dan McLaughlin

Dan McLaughlin is a platform tennis and paddleball convert who really is a team player. He loves the game and he loves the pickleball community. He also loves to win! Enjoy!

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

2019 US OPEN Men’s Skill/Age Doubles with Jim Hackenberg, Gold
Mixed Doubles with Jo Anne Russell – Bronze
2018 US OPEN Men’s Doubles Age 65+ with Seymour Rifkind – Silver
Mixed Doubles Age 65+ with Deb Harrison – Silver
        Men’s Skill/Age Doubles with Jim Hackenberg – Gold


Mixed Doubles Skill/Age with Deb Harrison – Silver
2017 US OPEN Men’s Doubles Age with Jim Hackenberg – Silver
Men’s Doubles Skill 50+ 4.5 with Pat Sinicki – Gold
Mixed Doubles Skill 50+ 4.5 with Nancy Robertson – Bronze
2017 Huntsman Senior Games Men’s Skill Doubles 4.5 50+ with Pat Sinicki – Silver
2014 USAPA Nationals, Mixed Doubles 65+ with Yvonne Hackenberg – Bronze

What paddle do you play with and why?

I am sponsored by Paddletek and I play with the TS-5 Pro. Paddletek is just an hour from where I live. I like the way the TS-5 Pro plays, especially the way the grip is rounder and feels more like a tennis grip.

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

I used to play tennis with Matt Wright at the University of Michigan. He was finishing his training and I was starting with the same coach. I knew Jim and Yvonne Hackenberg. years ago. They lived in Detroit, Michigan and I lived in Kalamazoo, where I lived for 35 years. They asked me to play pickleball, but I was into playing platform tennis and paddleball at the time. They didn’t give up. When I started playing in 2014 I was quickly hooked, and playing with the Hackenbergs put me on the fast track to being competitive at the national level.  I now live in Holland Michigan and winter in Naples, Florida. It is so easy to participate in the US OPEN each year.

What is your preference – playing indoors or outdoors?

Outdoors! I like being outside in the fresh air. I grew up in Southern California and loved the sun and the challenge of the wind.

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

I prefer doubles. Singles are too rough on me. I get too spent with little left to bring to the doubles match. I don’t want to let my doubles partner down by mixing singles and doubles in a tournament.

2019 US Open, Dan McLaughlin and Joann Russell - Bronze, Jim and Yvonne Hackenberg - Gold

2019 US Open, Dan McLaughlin and Joann Russell – Bronze, Jim and Yvonne Hackenberg – Gold

What is your favorite place to play? Why?

St. George Utah. Great courts and there are neat places to visit.

What is your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

Get old enough to watch the competitive field thin out through attrition. Pick good partners and stay out of their way.

What is your day job?

I am a semi-retired root canal specialist, otherwise known as endodontist. Mention you know me, and you might get a discount… or not. I also do wildlife photography. I have traveled to Alaska and Africa on photography excursions. I also take pictures at pickleball tournaments.

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

I have no big goals. I have been successful at the last few US OPEN tournaments. I now play pickleball as a fun way to stay fit and I love playing with family and friends. I’m satisfied with playing at a high level and keeping in contact with mentors.

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

I have been given the privilege to know all the top folks in most of the country.  I’m surprised to be included in this category. It is an honor to be sponsored by Paddletek. I like Paddletek because they recognize good players at all levels and gave support to someone like him, a small fish in a BIG pond.

Meet the Pros – Paul Olin

Meet the Pros – Paul Olin

Paul Olin (Photo credit GAMMA Sports)

We love to hear about another tennis convert! Game On and Enjoy!! 

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

2019 US Open – Silver Men’s Sr Pro Singles
2019 The Lakes Spring Fling – Gold Men’s Sr Pro Singles
2019 Southwest Regional – Gold Men’s 5.0 50-54 Singles
2019 Southwest Regional – Silver Men’s 5.0 50-54 Doubles
2018 US Open – Bronze Men’s 5.0 Doubles
2018 US Open – Gold Men’s 5.0 35+ Singles
2017 Atlantic Regional – Bronze 5.0 Doubles
2017 Atlantic Regional – Silver 5.0 Singles
2017 US Open – Gold Men’s 4.5 Singles
2017 US Open – Silver Mixed 35+ Doubles

What paddle do you play with and why?

GAMMA RZR – soon switching to GAMMA Legend. Both paddles have really nice touch/feel, no dead spots and great power.

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

I was introduced to pickleball 3 years ago by my mother in-law Frann down at the East Naples Park, home of the US Open Pickleball Championships. Like everyone else, the addiction was immediate. I have a tennis background: High School National Champion and Division I in college. Haven’t played much tennis since my college days; that’s a really long time ago.

What is your preference – playing indoors or outdoors?

Outdoors. More things to look at outside and the Durafast 40 outdoor ball is much more fun to play with.

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

Doubles, by far. Doubles doesn’t hurt like singles and the game is more interesting. I really like singles, but doubles is much more exciting.

What is your favorite place to play? Why?

USAPA Nationals at Indian Wells. First off, the setting with the beautiful mountains and weather cannot be beat. Second, I wasn’t expecting much for a pickleball tournament in a tennis facility. I was completely wrong – USAPA went all out and nailed it. The courts were fantastic and the facilities were the best I have seen at a pickleball tournament. My results were not good, but the event itself made for a very favorable experience. I cannot wait until this November!

What is your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

No secrets. I like to listen to everyone. Everyone has advice. Some of the advice will work for you and some of it will not. But when you find that golden nugget of advice, it helps a ton. My advice to anyone that will listen would be to work on your footwork and always get your paddle ready. Getting your paddle ready applies not only at the net, but also at the baseline and especially when on the run.

What is your day job?

I retired from the US Navy in 2011. I was a Naval Aviator and primarily flew the FA-18. My last job on active duty was the Commanding Officer of the US Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN). Currently, I work for Northrop Grumman.

How many hours a week do you play?

Not enough! It varies. Most of the people I play with have a full time job, so getting a 4-some together is difficult. It usually works out to 2-3 times per week. Most of my playing time is spent drilling with Josh J Pickleball,(children’s book author extraordinaire.

How do you make time to play?

Plan ahead and hope for good weather. We will normally play before or after work.

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

Nothing specific. I try to get a good nights rest. But that is sometimes difficult. My biggest complaint with pickleball tournaments is that they do not release the draw until midnight. I’m not sure why – most other sports have the ability to do this. I have met some great tournament directors that release the draw early and they really do a great job of keeping the players informed. To all tournament directors – please release the draws at a reasonable hour! Rant complete : )

Paul Olin Silver Medal 2019 US Open

2019 US Open: Men’s Senior Pro SIngles: Paul Olin, Silver; Scott Moore, Gold; Dave Weinbach, Bronze

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

To win! I love competition, but winning is always my goal. I’m still learning this game, so I don’t have specific goals. Just do my best and the results will come.

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

I’m very far from one of the best players in the world. I still have a ton to learn. But that’s what I love about the game – there are many different ways to play and everyone in this game is super friendly and always willing to help out.