PUNTA GORDA — The sound of plastic balls hitting graphite paddles resonated this weekend at Charlotte High School.
The National Outdoor Pickleball AAU tournament attracted some of the nation’s and area’s best players to Charlotte County.
“We feel that it’s been a tremendous success,” said Sindee Snow, tournament co-director, who runs the tournament along with national AAU Pickleball Chair Yvonne Devlin. “We had between 190 and 200 players participating.”
The tournament began Nov. 28 and ran through Dec. 2, featured a vendor village, divisions for all levels of play, and had age restricted divisions, providing competitive depth for all participants.
“As an AAU organization, our goal is to get the youth involved, we’re seeing a base of 40-55-year-old players who are playing consistently,” said Snow. “We’re diligently promoting about 10 events throughout the year. We’re getting more people involved. The sports commission has been so supportive.”
PicklePlex board members Dave Fox and Gloria Reilly, played a key role in finding a place for the tournament, that was originally slated to be held at PicklePlex, the locale where the AAU intends to hold the tournament in 2019, securing Charlotte High School as this year’s destination, said Snow.
This past week’s tournament also provided a place for new officials to get some invaluable experience, and there was an opportunity to watch the event as it was live streamed, said Gloria Reilly.
Mary Ellen Pfeifer and Jan Garcia, Englewood residents, have been playing the sport for five years, are friends, but played together as doubles partners in a tournament for the first time this past weekend.
“The AAU is a wonderful organization, and I’ve been involved with it for years, through my daughter playing basketball,” said Pfeifer, who’s originally from Iowa, has a tennis background and learned to play pickleball at her local Y.
“They do a wonderful job taking care of the tournament. Everything runs smoothly and everyone gets along.”
The sport’s exponential growth was one of the reasons that Jan Garcia decided to pick up a paddle, but pickleball was also beneficial for the former Michigander for another reason.
“When I moved to Florida, everyone was playing pickleball, and we didn’t know pickleball,” said Garcia. “But now I can’t imagine moving some place that doesn’t have pickleball.
Charlotte County has amazing facilities. I played tennis years ago, but then I had a closed head injury. I was very dizzy and couldn’t look up at things. Pickleball has made me to almost where I was before. It’s great therapy. I sill have some vision issues, but I move much better. If I didn’t play pickleball, I wouldn’t have gotten back to where I am.”