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

AMBASSADOR SERIES – Ron Tugwell, North Virginia, Fairfax County

Ambassador Series – Ron Tugwell

Location: North Virginia, Fairfax County

Ron Tugwell, Home Plate Awards

56th Annual Home Plate Awards Banquet, Ron Tugwell, organizer on the left,

Ron Tugwell is a life-long sports enthusiast and coach. We are glad to have him in the pickleball “family” now! Enjoy!

How did you get into pickleball?

I’ve been involved in sports all my life. I coached baseball. My son played professional baseball. I played tennis, but I’ve had 2 knee replacements in 4 years. After the last knee surgery, I tennis-ed out, and started playing golf. It was tough to learn and hard on my knees. Then about 7 years ago I visited my parents who live in a retirement community. They played pickleball and I started hitting around with them. I got hooked, went home and found places where it was played. I play pickleball now 4-5 times a week. My wife and I both play. We get to know people better playing pickleball than when we played tennis. We enjoy organizing pickleball parties and we travel with it. I played at Naples (US Open). It’s nicer traveling with pickleball than with golf. Pickleball is my passion. The appeal of the game is that it is easy to learn and fairly inexpensive.

Why did you become an ambassador?

I was approached by Helen White, Asst Regional Mid-Atlantic Director, outside DC. She’s great! She asked for help with the Mid-Atlantic Tournament, so my wife Peggy and I jumped in and helped. Peggy and I like to travel and play together, and we like to help, so we jumped at the chance to become ambassadors. We work together as co-ambassadors. We handle a lot of calls and have a lot of visitors to the places that have pickleball.

Highlights of being an ambassador? Accomplishments?

Helen, Peggy and I work together to get more people playing pickleball. Two years ago, 20% of folks who took our classes stayed with it. Today, every class is full, and they often have played already and have already bought a paddle. The growth includes younger folks ages 30-50. Pickleball is also being introduced in public schools.  We introduce pickleball at local middle schools for the first-time last year. 

We just finished hosting a City Open Tournament in DC. We also had the 10 best pickleball pros, like Tyson McGuffin, Irina Tereschenko and Joey Farias, come to do exhibition play. Three stayed around after to do clinics. We filled 260 slots for a 3-day clinic.

Pro clinic

Clinic participants and the Pros – Tyson McGuffin, Irina Tereshenko, Joe Farias in the cente, row did you get into pickleball?

What challenges have you encountered in getting pickleball into communities?

I know pickleball will grow. My wife and I are both educators, but sometimes it’s like pulling teeth. I’ve learned that the game is 80% practice and 20% play. Most folks are 3.0 level and not seeking to improve much. It’s sometimes hard to get folks to do skills and drills.  

Peggy Tugwell

Tyson McGuffin and Peggy Tugwell

We are behind on providing enough facilities for the demand for the game. There are no dedicated courts within 50 miles except Fredricksburg. Pickleball is big in pockets of Maryland. In the DC area, there are more indoor courts. We have heavy competition with other activities. Fairfax County wants all facilities to be multipurpose. A number of facilities are small and some have tile floors, like one site near Arlington which is not so good for pickleball. There are 220 tennis courts in Fairfax County, and only 20% are being used. We are looking into one perfect location, easy access in the DC area. It has 11 tennis courts that no one uses, with 2 that have pickleball lines. We are working hard to convince the county athletic board to consider expanding pickleball in this location.