1,500 seniors compete in national tournament
About 1,500 pickleball players, all 50 or older, are competing this week in a national championship in Fort Lauderdale. An additional 1,000 people attended to see and cheer on their favorite friends, family, and teams. This year’s biggest player is 92 years old.
“I think everyone who picks up the paddle and tries it, gets hooked,” said tournament participant Lee Ingram, 53.
The event was hosted by the National Senior Games Association, which brings together thousands of athletes from around the world at its annual events, according to tournament director David Jordan.
Last year it was held in Albuquerque and featured just under 14,000 athletes competing in about 20 individual and team sports. This year it was held at the Broward County Convention Center.
Officials do not yet have a total number of athletes who will have competed this year, but they have seen a steady increase since its inception in 1987, when 2,500 athletes competed in 15 sports at its inaugural event in St. Louis. Louis, Mo.
“Everyone seems to be having a great time,” Jordan said. “It simply came to our notice then. It was so much more than we ever expected. Last year we had 1,200 [pickleball players] in Albuquerque and we thought they were probably about as many as we would get here, but we actually had 1,700 registered, but because of the COVID, we had about 200 abandoned. “
No major problems have been reported, Jordan said, apart from a few minor computer errors.
The seniors competed in a room on the second floor of the convention center while attendees watched ball and volleyball balls being played. In the most competitive matches, dozens of people gathered in front of the courts, applauding loudly when their favorite team triumphed.
For those who don’t play, pickleball is often described as a mixture of tennis, table tennis, badminton and racquetball. The court is about half the size of a tennis court and usually requires less running, especially in two-on-two games.
Tim Craig competed on Saturday and has been playing pickleball since 2016 and is an instructor in Texas. He will compete again on Tuesday.
The game has grown in popularity over the past 10 years, and developers are incorporating more pickleball courts into new communities of seniors, according to Craig, 60, of Phleugerville, Texas. “Anyone between the ages of 8 and 80 can play.”
Both the players and the players appreciated that the matches were played inside and outside the heat, although several players regretted the thin surface of the game.
The biggest competitor in this year’s pickleball tournament was 92-year-old Joyce Jones of Seattle. However, he was not at the event on Sunday, as his matches ended the day before.
Ingram had just lost his last game after a series of several wins and losses in his tournament group. He has been playing for about four years. An old friend had tried to get him to play pickleball years ago, “but I had said it was an old-fashioned game,” said Ingurn, of Auburn, Ala.
“But he was so persistent that he pulled me out before 50 and I’m hooked.”