Pickler Gives Back by Putting Recyclables to Work



Mona Wheeler, a charter member of the Lincoln Hills Pickleball Club, raises money for local causes by recycling bottles and cans left on the courts.

It’s difficult to pick our favorite thing about pickleball, but if we had to choose it’d be hard not to say it’s the caliber of people the sport attracts. Case in point? Mona Wheeler of Lincoln, California. A tireless retiree, Wheeler spends her free time raising money to benefit others—and the environment.

It started a few years ago when Wheeler, a member of the Lincoln Hills Pickleball Club, got a pretty great idea: gather all the cans and bottles left around the courts and start trading them in for cash. “I just saw all these used drinking containers going into the trash can and I thought, “That’s a lot of money we’re throwing away and a lot of waste going into landfills,’” said Wheeler. “There had to be something better we could be doing with all that waste.”

So she set up a blue collection bin for recyclables next to the courts and started encouraging people to throw their bottles and cans in it instead of the trash. Whenever the bin filled up she took it down to the state collection center in exchange for $.05 per can or bottle.

The idea caught on and within a year Wheeler had raised $500. She turned the money over to the board of the Lincoln Hills Pickleball Club with instructions to donate it locally, and the board decided to distribute it to foster kids who had aged out of the system and were attending a nearby college.

Word spread and Wheeler’s second year of gathering recyclables was even more successful, with her efforts bringing in $1200 that was distributed between Placer County Food Bank, Lincoln Hills Foundation, Lincoln’s Discovery Center, and pickleball coaching at a local elementary school.

This past year, Wheeler’s efforts resulted in three scholarships of $500 apiece for seniors graduating from Lincoln High School. The recipients were Alejandra Ceja, Penelope Garcia (class valedictorian), and Aaron Jackson.


Three seniors from Lincoln High School were recipients of $500 scholarships each from the Lincoln Hills Pickleball Club: (from left to right) Alejandra Ceja, Aaron Jackson, and Penelope Garcia.

“These days I collect an average of about $150 a month,” Wheeler said. “So we’ll see what we bring in for next year’s donation.”

Wheeler’s hope is that the money will eventually be able to be used to help grow the sport in the city of Lincoln. “We’re working on getting public courts here and when we do, I’m hoping to use the money to help introduce new players to the sport by providing free paddles and pickleball clinics and other things like that for families who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them.”

The pickleball community has rallied around the idea, and now many people bring recycling from their homes down to Wheeler’s courtside collection bin. “I even have a few neighbors just drop off bags of recycling on my porch,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler has been playing since 2007 and is a charter member of the Lincoln Hills Pickleball Club, which plays on courts within the retirement community of Sun City Lincoln Hills. “We started with 30 members playing on basketball courts with portable nets,” she said. “Now we have 500 members sharing six courts. You can see why we’re eager to help the city of Lincoln embrace the sport and catch up with demand.”

According to Wheeler, court construction talks are underway and the hope is that she and her fellow residents will be able to enjoy new public courts in Lincoln within two years. Until then, she’ll keep collecting recyclables from her pickleball cohorts and using the money to donate to the community in the name of pickleball.

Does Pickleball Have a Shot at Olympic Gold?

With the 2016 Olympics in Rio now firmly in the rear-view mirror, we thought we’d take a look ahead at what it might take to get pickleball into the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. As we said in 
this article about it back in 2014, getting a sport into the Olympics is a long and winding road. But four things make us hopeful that pickleball has a better shot (heh heh) than most sports at getting a coveted spot under the Olympic rings.  

1. Viewership for the Rio Olympics was abysmal. Down by 17% overall and 25% among millennials from the London games, future games need ratings H-E-L-P. Being the fastest growing sport in the United States, with almost 3 million players nationwide and players on 6 out of 7 continents, pickleball would be a natural fit for injecting fresh blood and interest into the games.

More entertaining than many current Olympic sports (dressage, we’re looking at you), there’s no way pickleball wouldn’t bring a massive ratings boost. Best of all? That boost would be multi-generational, as the sport is played by players 7 to 100.  

In addition, the sport’s small court size coupled with the finesse and skill of top pros would make for a slowmo replay heaven that would fit perfectly with the TV-dependent nature of the games. Plus, we’re pretty sure viewers would be captivated by the image of an octogenarian holding their own against a 30-something. Ratings would soar!  

Olympic medals

Credit: yosoynuts

2. Six new sports – baseball, softball, karate, skateboard, sports climbing and surfing – have recently been added to the 2020 lineup of Olympic sports. As one of these is bound to fail (our money’s on sports climbing or softball), room may open up for a sport that never fails (pickleball) in 2024!

3. With almost 3 million players on six continents and more joining every day, the sport is getting closer to meeting the basic minimum requirements it needs to be considered to be an Olympic sport. If it keeps growing the way it’s growing, every grandparent on the planet could unwittingly be training the first pickleball Olympian. What a thought! Want to make sure you’re training a pro? Check out the 200P Mini Paddle for little hands.

4. This past year we saw the success of the first US Open Pickleball Championship. Thousands flocked to the tournament and tens of thousands more talked about it all across the internet. Who can look at that event – the hype, the interest, the level of play – and not see the future of the sport?  

For all these reasons we believe pickleball players will make it to the Olympic podium. It’s just a matter of when.

What’s on Your Pickleball Bucket List?

Bucket List

Bucket lists are all the rage these days, from the general “100 things to do before I die” to the highly specific “501 books to read before I’m 50,” it seems like there’s a list for everything. So why not one for pickleball?

As a wise person once said, “A goal not written down is only a wish.” There is power in writing down your goals. Bucket lists help provide direction, focus and purpose – and with so many things competing for your time, writing down what is truly important to you and what you want to accomplish and experience can help you block out the noise and keep your eye on the prize. And what’s the prize? More pickleball experiences, of course!

As pickleball explodes in popularity, the number of ways to enjoy pickleball explodes as well. There are pro-run clinics to attend, a ton of tournaments to test your skill at, pickleball tours to take part in – you name it! So why not make a list and start checking off the awesome?! Here, to help you get started, is our pickleball bucket list.

Pickleball Bucket List

1. Ref a tournament – It’s a snap to learn, you get a front row seat to tons of matches and you give back to the sport you love while helping improve your own game.

2. Play in a tournament in all categories – Singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. Get out of your comfort zone and diversify your playing style!

3. Perfect the dink, behind the back and around the post shots.

4. Attend as a spectator or play at the US Open Pickleball Championships.

5. Participate in a pickleball tournament that benefits a charity.

6. Go on a pickleball tour (U.S.) – With places to play in every state, you can start in Alaska and end in Florida and never run out of fun

7. Go on a pickleball tour (world) – We’ve seen pickleball tours offered in Spain, Japan, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, and we’re sure more will pop up as the sport continues to grow. If you don’t want to hire a tour director, hit up Facebook or Google to find clubs across the globe and make your own tour.

8. Get a pickleball pen pal from another country or age group. Pickleball is played on 6 of the 7 continents (come on, Antarctica!), so reach out to a pickleball club through Facebook and see who answers. You never know what you’ll learn about how the rest of the world experiences pickleball!

9. Get a one-on-one lesson from a pro. Treat yourself and invest in your game by enlisting someone at the top of the sport to really dial into what you’re doing well and what you could work on.

10. Get an autographed paddle and get all the top players you meet to sign it. Keep it where you can see it and it can serve as inspiration for how good you want your own game to be.

You can start your signature collection with a U.S. Open Bantam EX-L Signature Edition

You can start your signature collection with a U.S. Open Bantam EX-L Signature Edition

 11. Introduce the sport to one person from each age category. Part of the magic of pickleball is that it crosses generations. Remind yourself of the game’s unifying power by spreading the sport to people you don’t consider peers.

12. Make a paddle from scratch – It’s easier than you think.

13. Medal in a tournament. (Dream big!)

14. Attend a pickleball-themed wedding. This one might take a little more luck than the rest, but if you can swing it, hats off to you! There’s no way a pickleball-themed wedding won’t be fun.

15. Build a court in your own backyard. How great to be able to play whenever you want.

Catron Pickleball Complex Knoxville Tennessee

Catron Pickleball Complex Knoxville Tennessee

16. Compete against a player from each rating level. Test yourself against higher-rated players and help a lower-rated player improve their skills.

17. Help someone go up a rating.

18. Try 6-player pickleball.
19. Compete in costume.Apex Park in Arvada Opens First Dedicated Pickleball Courts in Colorado

20. Attend a match at the Olympics when pickleball becomes an Olympic sport! 🙂

So there’s our list. How many of these have you already checked off, and what would you add?