You may not have known it unless you were there, but Clover Park High School spent the weekend hosting national champions. These champions just happen to be playing the niche sport of pickleball and look a bit older than one might have expected. From August 3-5 Clover Park High School served as the site for the Washington State Senior Games Pickleball Tournament. The tournament consisted of men’s singles, women’s singles and mixed doubles with participants ranging from 50 to 74. This year’s tournament was particularly important as winners were able to qualify for the 2019 National Senior Games.
According to the official website, the goal of the Washington State Senior Games is to provide athletic and competitive opportunities for seniors while encouraging camaraderie and a healthy lifestyle. Craig Hamilton, from Fircrest, who played in the men’s doubles in the 50-59 age group, agrees saying, “It’s great to stay active when you’re over 50 and pickleball is a sport you can play forever and the pickleball crowd are really fun people.”
Pickleball is a traditionally lesser known sport yet it holds a tight-knit community of players and spectators. The game itself, which was created in Bainbridge Island by former State Representative Joel Pritchard, is a cross between tennis and table tennis where players use a paddle to hit a ball similar to a wiffle over a three-foot net. The sport is popular among tennis players who are drawn to the familiar rules and the smaller court.
Hamilton said tournaments are a type of reunion for the pickleball community. This idea of community seemed present throughout the day as the tournament had a friendly and encouraging atmosphere. During warmups, opponents could be heard getting to know each other personally and during games jokes and acknowledgments of a great play could be heard frequently. Once they were done playing players would often camp out with others under tents to watch and support the other players. Other players volunteered to set up the courts and help ref games.
While players were having fun and engaging with others there was certainly still a competitive energy in each game. Some of the players were former collegiate athletes or are nationally ranked in their respective age group or have played at the National Senior Games before so the competition was strong. In addition, while players were grouped by age they were also broken up by skill level. Games moved quickly and the powerful hit of the ball off paddles created a non-stop echo along with the scuff of sneakers bouncing back and forth across the courts.
While the sport of pickleball is still working to gain popularity it continues to have dedicated followers eager to share their sport. Doug Gardner, from University Place, and Hamilton’s doubles partner, wants people to know that the sport of pickleball is available to all and strongly encourages others to come and get involved. If there’s one theme to take away from the tournaments is that there is a community of players ready to embrace new players with experience and a joy for the game.
For results visit https://secure.pickleballtournaments.com/schedule.pl?tid=1875 and for more information on the Washington State Senior Games visit http://www.washingtonstateseniorgames.com/index.htm.