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

How Can We Make Pickleball Appeal to a Younger Demographic?

Pickleball started off as a family game, but over the years it’s become more common for people to see it as a sport for retirees or former tennis players. This isn’t to say the pickleball community hasn’t made efforts to involve kids—we’ve seen a proliferation of youth leagues, efforts to get the game in schools, not to mention a growing group of high level teenage players.

But is there anything else that can be done to make the sport more attractive to youngsters? We have some ideas.

Anna Leigh Waters often doubles up with her mother in competitive pickleball matches and crushes the competition

Invite Them

It seems like an obvious thing to do, but the simplest path can be overlooked! Chances are you have a few kids in your life, and your own family or a friend’s are a great place to start recruiting younger talent. This is the most common way younger players find the game.

Depending on the personalities involved, you can either take the route of friendly competition (“Surely you’re not afraid of losing a game to me?”), a unique day out (“Want to try something new? I promise it’s easy to learn!”) or in times of desperation, guilt (“Humor your poor aunt/grandpa/etc for one evening?”).

Since most people in the general populace, much less the younger crowd, don’t know about pickleball, it may be up to you to make the introduction.

Better Scheduling

One complaint we often hear among younger players is that many pickleball leagues gather in the early morning or middle of the day. This is fine for retired players, but often clashes with those who still have school, a 9 -5 job or work later in the evening.

If you want to attract younger players, it might be wise to free up a few times for rec leagues and beginner clinics later in the day or on weekends. If you know of clubs or groups in your area that cater to this sort of schedule, then don’t hesitate to recommend them to those who may have trouble finding something that suits them.

Jack Munro is one of the youngest 5.0-rated players

More Exposure

Pickleball still isn’t commonplace on TV or in other popular media, so sometimes you have to go straight to your targets’ natural environment. Try to get local schools’ health teachers on board to try the sport. If you have your own court, you can of course host pickleball games for youth in the area.

Volunteer to give a talk and clinic on pickleball. Ask venues that are popular with the younger crowd if you could advertise your club and set up free intro clinics so kids can get their feet wet.

How have you gotten kids involved in pickleball before? Which approaches worked best for you and what do you think will draw more youth to pickleball?

Lake Effect Traveling Team Builds Pickleball Community and Competition

You may have heard of traveling pickleball pros, but what about traveling teams made up of passionate 3.5+ players?

This is exactly what the Lake Effect team in Saugatuck has achieved. The group hosts and challenges clubs up and down Michigan’s lakeshore, allowing players to explore different partners and compete against others without affecting tournament ratings. It’s served as an effective way to expose players to fresh talent while engaging in the competitive side of the sport.

The team plays men’s, women’s and mixed doubles at events, being composed of twelve women and twelve men.

Sara Cullen is the original founder of Lake Effect and serves as co-captain beside Sherrie Velthouse. Sara shares her experience thus far:

“We are a new enterprise and just got off the ground late last summer. We had two matches before the end of our outdoor season. Both times we played Grand Haven, the Lakeshore Pickleball Club. They traveled about 40 minutes to our courts, and then we traveled to their courts in late fall.

This year we have already played one match outdoors in April. We have an upcoming match against Grand Rapids on May 18th, traveling over to their courts about 45 minutes away. In early June we’ll be playing against The Alley Cats from Kalamazoo.”

Lake Effect

The Lake Effect team

Lake Effect is looking to play Hudsonville in mid-July if they can organize a date. Sara explains that scheduling gets more difficult in the summer months due to the number of important USAPA-sanctioned tournaments that fill up the calendar. In addition, they face snow and cold weather in fall and winter, losing team members to warmer destinations. Travel team matches are placed on hold when it gets too chilly for the locals.

Despite the time-sensitive nature of the enterprise, Sara says, “The exciting part of the travel team is that it’s working! Our team members are having a great time, building friendships, finding new partners for tournaments and everyone is enjoying an easy and fun way to test their court skills without entering tournaments or having to spend money.

They can use the travel team matches to prepare for USAPA tournaments without being concerned about their ranking being effected by a loss. So it makes it fun and worry free. It’s also nice to see that even when players don’t win their flight, they still cheer for your teammates.”

Jodie Kyes, one of the members who helps manage the team, states that she feels fortunate to have many strong clubs in close proximity, including Grand Rapids, South Haven, Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Niles, Muskegon and Holland.

Lakeshore Pickleball

A shot from the Lakeshore Pickleball Club’s courts

She explains that the concept of a travel team was based on the formation of a varsity high school sport. Team captains set up challenge matches with other clubs and determine the lineup of partners and positions. In women’s and men’s doubles there are five teams for each, and in mixed doubles there are ten teams. The captains determine who plays at the top of the lineup in order of skill and ability.

Once the captains have organized a match, the hosting team provides the courts, wristbands, tournament schedule and refreshments such as Gatorade and energy bars.

Lake Effect has even went the extra mile by creating uniforms, practicing drills together and enjoying social gatherings to promote team spirit. Their dedication to their club is truly admirable!

Jodie summarizes by sharing her team’s goals:

“As we head into our second year of travel team challenges, we’re hoping the idea catches on across our state and eventually nationally. Travel team matches promote pickleball and the satisfaction of competing not just as an individual, but more importantly as a team. It builds friendships and team spirit, which has been a wonderful bonus for our players.

The Lake Effect travel team has developed a code of conduct that outlines what we are looking for in team players. Good sportsmanship is at the forefront but also the importance of cheering on other team players during their matches and accepting the lineup without question. Most importantly, every team player should welcome the opportunity to play with whomever the captains assign. All in all, even though it is a new concept for pickleball, we’re very pleased with the enthusiasm it’s received and look forward to many years of competitive and fun play.”

Lake Effect would also like to recognize Selkirk, Wilson, PickleballCentral and Franklin Sports for their donations to the team. We thank them for sharing their story in return!

Are you intrigued by the idea of a traveling pickleball team? Let us know about your experiences if you’ve developed a similar setup in your community!

Has Pickleball Gone Mainstream Yet?

It seems every day we see more news articles announcing, “Unknown sport experiences astonishing growth!” or, “Game nobody’s heard of makes headlines!” These pieces are referring to pickleball, but with the proliferation of such titles, is it really fair to continue treating the game like it’s so little-known?

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S., a fact which was announced back in 2015. Perhaps it’s time people should stop being so shocked by pickleball’s existence, and instead players should be surprised when someone doesn’t recognize the sport.

Jillian Michaels playing pickleball

Jillian Michaels playing pickleball

Aside from the millions of players located in the U.S. alone, the game is becoming more commonly taught in schools, rec centers and even prisons. Celebrities such as Jillian Michaels, Kid Rock, the Kardashians and Tobey Macguire all enjoy playing. Even former tennis pros Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick have given pickleball a swing.

Gear can be found in several big-box stores such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart. CBS is broadcasting the US Open on TV. Many communities are (successfully) rallying for their local governments to create courts from scratch or turn unused tennis courts into pickleball parks.

With USAPA ambassadors and even casual players continuing to spread the word and bring the game to locations far and wide, maybe we’re getting closer to the day when people can say they play pickleball and the general population won’t have to wonder if they’re talking about a sport or a strange food.

Kid Rock with pickleball paddle

Kid Rock with custom pickleball paddle on a Norwegian Cruise

After all, people recognize sports like archery, hockey, rugby, polo and billiards, but largely due to their storied histories rather than a proliferation of play. Many of those listed aren’t usually found in communities due to expensive equipment, large space requirements and high physical demands. Surely pickleball, with its approachable play and affordable gear, will only continue to rise in visibility.

Have you found that many people know about pickleball in your city? Do you feel like you get fewer confused responses these days when mentioning the sport? Let us know about your experiences, whether strangers were affirming or bewildered!

Randy Wince Adds Extra Fun to Pickleball with Unique Events

Randy Wince gives his local group of picklers plenty to look forward to thanks to the fun activities he plans every month at the Life Fitness Center in Bettendorf, IA.

Randy had always loved organizing parties and celebrations during his previous employment at Northwestern Bell. Now retired, he applies his knack for event planning to devise unique pickleball events.

Judy Petersen and Paul Willoughby

Judy Petersen and Paul Willoughby (Credit: QC Times)

The seven courts he frequents normally host around 50 players during standard times of play, but his festivities have brought in an extra influx of participants. This month Randy set up a St. Patrick’s-themed gathering and 75 people wanted in on the action! A bagpipe player was even brought in to set the mood.

Another idea Randy expanded on came from joking about players needing to compete for WWE-style belts. A short time later, he actually brought in belts that picklers in A and B divisions now wear. The belts are used by each individual for a week and are then passed to other winners. Randy has also provided smaller trophies to be given as permanent awards.

Myrna Seline

Myrna Seline (Credit: QC Times)

In March last year, Randy underwent back surgery and has shared how pickleball helped him to physically and mentally recover from the operation. By setting up these events, he’s been able to pass on the support and “good vibes” the community provided him when he needed it the most.

We love when picklers get creative with their ideas and find ways to add even more excitement to the sport. Have you ever set up a special event for your pickleball club or group? Are there any concepts you haven’t seen yet but would like to make a reality?

Marlene Corray

Marlene Corray (Credit: QC Times)

Three Fans Pitch Pickleball and Win Support for Local Courts

Here’s a unique and interesting way several individuals have gained support for pickleball: The art of the pitch!

In this case we don’t mean a “pitch” as in baseball but through public speaking. In an event called the Vesuvius Coworking Pitch Night Competition, Robin Able, Cheryl McKinney and Jessica Jones won over $4,000 which will be used to bring pickleball to Madison County.

Vesuvius Coworking was started two years ago by Shane Bivens as a program to “encourage and financially support the work of Central Indiana inventors, creatives and idealists.”

Vesuvius

This year the applicants were asked to focus on community engagement and ideas that would create positive impact among many people with only a few thousand dollars.

Bivens stated that, “We started this as part our programming to allow entrepreneurs a stage for the community to see we have a lot of amazing things going on here that no one knows about.”

Six finalists were asked to present their ideas out of 20 original applicants last Friday, all selected by a group of entrepreneurs and business experts.

It’s no surprise to us that the panel found pickleball to be a wise investment for the community’s happiness and sense of unity. Congratulations to these brave pickleball advocates!

“We want a large enough facility that we can offer clinics and have space for lots of courts, and then outdoors, weather providing. We’ve been playing for a year, for free already, and we want to pass that opportunity on not just for learning the sport and the health benefits, but for the community it has provided for us,” says Able.

You can view the contestants’ winning presentation below starting at 44:43.

 

Previous winners have used their winnings to open a restaurant offering whole foods and a Fit2Fly center that uses bungee cords for low-impact exercise routines.

Have you ever had to give a presentation to support pickleball, such as at a city council meeting or contest like this? Let us know about ways you’ve found unique support for the sport!