By CHUCK BALLARO
When the new Pickleplex is completed, it will become one of the biggest pickleball facilities, able to host the biggest tournaments in the country.
This past weekend, it hosted its first as more than 225 players from throughout the region came to the new facility on the campus at Florida Southwest State College for the Summer Sizzler tournament.
For a sport that has earned the reputation of being a sport for older people, a look at the field showed that it is quickly becoming a sport for young people as well.
David Fox, tournament director, said it’s unusual to get such participation in the summer, but with the new facility and the fact the sport is one of the fastest growing in North America, it was the curiosity of pickleballers that brought people from miles around to play.
“We usually have 10 courts being used on a continual basis in the summer. When the snowbirds come, all the courts will be full and people will be waiting,” Fox said.
Gloria Reilly, the secretary and treasurer at Pickleplex, said the sport is social and an opportunity to meet people.
“It takes care of our social needs and it’s easier to pick up than tennis with less space to have to run,” Reilly said. “Besides, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. With a few lessons, they can get out on the court.”
Play started on Friday, June 28 with 60-and-over men’s and women’s doubles. Saturday’s play was mixed doubles, and Sunday featured under-60 men’s and women’s doubles.
And they came from all over. Mario Martino and Lizane Nadon came all the way from Lakewood Ranch to win the 4.0 60-plus mixed doubles.
“We came to check out the Pickleplex here because we don’t usually play in the summer and we wanted to see what it looked like,” Martino said. “The courts are great, the colors and lighting are great, and I think they have a winner.”
While pickleball is played predominantly by older people, there were kids as young as 13 playing. Brandon Skavroneck, 18, of Punta Gorda, said his girlfriend’s mother is a high-level player and she got him to play.
“I enjoy the communal aspect and meeting new people and getting to play with them. It’s not crazy competitive and nobody gets mad about it. It’s just a fun time all around,” Skavroneck said.
Ryan Miscik, of Venice, 36, said he got into it from his mother.
“My mom begged me to play for months, but I thought it was for old people. It turns out, it’s fun and for young people, too,” Miscik said as his mom listened.
Along for the ride was Christee Chargot, from Estero, who won the 35+ singles at the U.S. Open for Pickleball in April.
“I am a tennis player and someone introduced me to the sport. I took a liking to it and there are a lot of young people playing,” Chargot said. “It’s a faster version of tennis on half the court. There are differences and similarities to tennis.”
The tournament was played on the 16 courts that represent Phase 1 of the Pickleplex project. Phase 2, which will include bathrooms, concessions and 16 courts is expected to be complete by October of 2020, with the final phase, eight indoor courts with a fitness center, pro shop and restaurant.