No sport for ‘sissies,’ pickleball tournament attracts competitors of all ages

ST. GEORGE — Competitors arrived from far and near to participate in the “USA Pickleball Association West Regional Tournament” Thursday through Saturday.

Players compete in the “USA Pickleball Association West Regional Tournament” at the Fields at Little Valley pickleball complex, St. George, Utah, April 22, 2017 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

The tournament took place on St George’s Fields at Little Valley pickleball complex, the only public outdoor complex with 24 courts in the country.

“It is pickleball mecca. This facility is so very special. It is a rare find to find this size pickleball court that’s public pickleball complex,” Di Shanklin, a tournament director, said of the one-of-a-kind facility.

The expansive complex, which features fully lit courts, some stadium seating and a PA system, facilitated a fast and well-organized tournament where athletes were more often playing than waiting.

See video in the media player top of this report.

“The City of St. George did an unbelievably fantastic job building this complex,” Shanklin said.

The sport has grown in popularity in recent years, thanks in part to its accessible nature.

“It’s the most incredible sport I’ve ever been involved in,” Shu Schalow said.

Schalow, a St. George resident and three-year pickleball player, earned her first gold medal in the tournament this year.

Players compete in the “USA Pickleball Association West Regional Tournament” at the Fields at Little Valley pickleball complex, St. George, Utah, April 22, 2017 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

“Anybody can play. The skills aren’t really hard, and you can pick it up easy,” competitor and referee Zane Affleck said. “You just need a paddle and a ball and just find some courts.”

The sport combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis as two or four players face off on a surface much smaller than what’s required of a tennis court. It carries significant appeal for athletes past their physical prime still seeking athletic competition.

While a good portion of the players were representative of an older crowd, competitors of all ages participated in the tournament.

About 470 people participated, up from 425 last year, in age brackets of 19 and older, 50 and older and 65 and older.

“It’s a fun sport,” Shanklin said. “If you think it’s a sissy sport, go watch some of these guys play.”

Competition is but one small component of the sport, which is more often preformed recreationally and for exercise.

“You can play it recreationally, you can play it competitively like this, whatever you want to do,” participant Dan Santangelo said.

Players compete in the “USA Pickleball Association West Regional Tournament” at the Fields at Little Valley pickleball complex, St. George, Utah, April 22, 2017 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

“I’ve loved it since the first time I hit the ball,” Santangelo said, “since the first time I heard the sound about 10 years ago in St. George.”

The one thing pickleball players seemed to agree on most is that it’s the people who make the sport.

“It’s great exercise – it’s meeting super people,” Santangelo said.

Meeting new people was easy at this year’s tournament in which around 70 percent of the participants are from outside Southern Utah, Kevin Lewis, director of the St. George Area Sports Commission, said in a news release.

“No matter where we go, we’ve played in Arizona and Star Valley, Wyoming, and a lot here and Las Vegas, and it’s like a giant family,” Schalow said of her fellow players.

Already in its second year at the Fields at Little Valley, tournament organizers plan to hold next year’s competition there again, Shanklin said.

St. George News video reporter Sheldon Demke contributed to this report.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Email: jwitham@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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