I'm a title. Click here to edit me.
Coach Ben Ollett
For this month's junior Spotlight, we wanted to shine a light on Coach Ben Ollett, a physical education (P.E.) teacher helping to grow pickleball within our youth community, while developing team skills with his students. Coach Ollett has been a P.E. teacher for five years at Denver Academy, an independent school for diverse learners in Denver, Colorado, teaching grades 1 through 12.
The pickleball P.E. program is part of a racquet sports unit combining badminton, tennis and pickleball. Currently all middle school students participate in the program, with high school students having it as an elective choice. Plus, Coach Ollett is looking to expand the program to elementary students and start a Denver Academy team this coming year.
“Pickleball is a great unit because a lot of kids who may not typically enjoy traditional team sports really engage in the game during P.E. class,” says Coach Ollett. “All students at all athletic abilities play well together.”
Denver Academy has multiple pickleball courts inside The James E. Loan Learning Center, which was just built in the last year and provides the students with a great sports facility on the 22-acre campus set in the middle of Denver. It’s not only students who enjoy the opportunity to have pickleball courts on-site. Coach Ollett says many teachers also stay after school to get the chance to play with their co-workers.
With pickleball becoming a favorite of both teachers and students, Coach Ollett decided to make the unit more robust this year by adding a tournament at the end of February.
How did students enjoy the tournament hosted by Coach Ollett? Luckily, there was a Denver Academy student, Cortez Campos, who took an interest in playing a pickleball media role and showcasing his video talents by capturing moments and student interviews from the tournament.
“I look forward to playing pickleball every day because it gets the energy out and it’s really fun,” said Maddy W., one of the tournament medalists. “I think I would bring pickleball back to my family and get my whole family to play it.”
USA Pickleball was impressed by this exceptional opportunity for students to get to experience a positive, competitive environment and contributed to the tournament winnings by awarding each top medalist with a USA Pickleball official approved paddle, plus providing Coach Ollett and Denver Academy with a Youth Program Provider (YPP) membership—equipping the P.E. staff with the tools and resources they need to continue effectively coaching the students.
“The YPP resources that are provided are a big help in creating a dynamic, engaging class,” says Coach Ollett. “Just playing pickleball is great, but a lot of kids need the extra progression and basic skills to reach a beginner level of play. Games like pickleball four-square are a really fun way to get tons of quality repetition on important skills.”
To watch Cortez’s full coverage of the tournament, and for more details about how your school can purchase a $40 annual YPP membership, visit USAPickleball.org. The membership features a Youth Pickleball Playbook, laminated activity cards, access to discounted equipment and access to an instructional video series.
Thank you to Denver Academy and Coach Ollett for continuing to get students excited about pickleball!
USA PICKLEBALL BOARD SPOTLIGHT: JOE SANTORO
Joe Santoro has been a USA Pickleball board member since February 2020. He first picked up the sport in 2015. He first picked up the sport in 2015 playing at the Bonita Bay Club in Bonita Springs, Florida. In the winter he spends his time playing at Veterans Park in Naples, and June through November he enjoys playing at Foss Field in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.
At 76, Joe competed in 22 tournaments and earned 16 medals at the 4.0/3.5 skill level. Since his first tournament “debut” in 2016, Joe has earned more than 40 medals in total. He has played in every US Open in Naples since its inception.
In addition to being an avid pickleball player, Joe is a USA Pickleball certified referee, the USA Pickleball Atlantic Region Referee Training Coordinator, and the founder of two annual pickleball tournaments in New Hampshire.
“The friendships and camaraderie that the activity generates is what I enjoy most about pickleball,” said Joe. “When explaining the sport to someone in one sentence, I tell them that it’s an enjoyable way to exercise the brain and body.”
As the USA Pickleball Atlantic Region Referee Training Coordinator, he works throughout all six New England states to train candidates for certified referee status. In addition, while in Naples each year, he helps train referees at Veterans Park.
Joe and his wife of 53 years, Donna, who is a retired registered nurse, have resided in several states over their more than five decades together as Joe’s career spanned both military and civilian occupations. He joined Air Force ROTC in 1962 during his freshman year at Tufts University and eventually earned the rank
of Colonel as the Cadet ROTC Detachment Commander.
After graduation and attending law school, Joe entered active duty for four years but remained in
the U.S. Air Reserves long enough to retire in 1995 as a colonel. His last assignment was Chief of the Logistics Readiness Center at the Pentagon during the first Gulf War.
Joe’s primary civilian activities have included positions as a plant department manager, director of human resources, and a marketing manager at the headquarters level of two international corporations.
He is also a retired certified public accountant with an MBA who has founded and sold several small business corporations. In addition, he has served as a small business consultant, become a member of more than a dozen boards of directors, testified before the Internal Revenue Service on matters related to taxation, written several authoritative articles and manuals on accounting, and served as a subject matter
Fourteen-year old Carson (CJ) Klinger from Granville, Ohio is a traveling pickleball player who is homeschooled and takes RV vacations with his family around pickleball tournaments. Not only are the trips adding medals to his trophy case, but the family also makes a point to stop at historic locations and to learn about various cultures.
Carson’s pickleball passion began while vacationing on Sanibel Island, where both he and his dad quickly became pickleball addicts. His favorite shot is his two- handed backhand crosscourt with topspin that he calls the “creeper.”
Carson’s parents wanted to ensure that he was able to play regularly and since there weren’t any local courts nearby, they built their own in the backyard!
“We built the court so Carson and I could play regularly, especially singles and to provide a place for others to have the opportunity to learn the game and play,” said Carson’s dad, Darrin.
Carson is a member of the Columbus Pickleball Club and appreciates being sponsored by Selkirk; he uses the Invikta Amped for singles and Epic Vanguard for doubles. This summer CJ won his first two 5.0
19+ gold medals in singles and doubles. Recently, he earned a silver in singles at the Mid Atlantic South Regional.
“I was so happy to win my first 5.0 gold medal in singles and doubles, and especially to win with my dad,” said Carson.
Before pickleball, Carson played a variety of sports, including soccer, basketball, baseball, karate, and tennis. He reached the #1 ranking with tennis in the 10U USTA Ohio Valley District and remained highly ranked, playing up in 12U and 14U. In his spare time, Carson loves to be outdoors playing in the woods, building bonfires, hiking, biking, and building items in the workshop. He loves math and science and is interested in getting a college degree in nutrition and fitness. •
Big Weapon in a Small Package
A 10-year-old from northern Utah has been the youngest player to enter the Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships for the past two years. At 8 years old, Danny Phillips won bronze in Junior Boys Doubles with his partner Tate Klein at the 2018 Championships. In 2019, the pair took silver in the same division. Danny has also played in many other USA Pickleball and recreational pickleball events, medaling a dozen times—half of those being gold—while playing against adults.
Wherever he plays, Danny draws an appreciative crowd. He surprises spectators as well as opponents with his powerful baseline strokes, soft hands at the net, natural court savvy, and remarkably consistent lobs. He likes to try trick shots and loves to slice, drop, and go around the post. Added to this, Danny has a charming personality that makes him a favorite of adults and juniors alike.
When he was 7 years old, Danny accompanied his dad at a tournament in southern Utah. Though he was too young to play as a participant, he continually looked for opportunities to get on courts between games and hit with any willing player. During a rain delay, pickleball legend Scott Moore saw Danny playing and joined him on court for an impromptu foursome exhibition. When they came off the court, a couple who had been watching stopped Danny and asked him to sign their pickleball. They said they wanted to be the first to get his autograph because they expected to see him as a pro one day.
Danny has been playing pickleball for four years. In addition to playing in tournaments and in adult recreational leagues, he practices regularly with his large family. Danny is the youngest of eight children born to Vic and Lisa Phillips. The Phillips family came to pickleball from a strong tennis background, and they are all hooked. They have made pickleball a huge part of their lives by playing in and supporting each other in tournaments, organizing community clinics and leagues, and most recently adding a pickleball court to their own backyard.
“I’m glad I have a family who always wants to play pickleball because that’s what makes me better,” Danny says. “I love to go to Nationals because I get to hang out with the other juniors and meet so many new people.” He always looks forward to the Junior Party “where we get to play with the pros like Kyle Yates and Ben Johns.”
As much as he loves pickleball, Danny also has many other interests and talents. He plays competitive soccer, baseball, basketball, and tennis. He is an honor student and excels academically. Additionally, Danny loves to sing and act. He is a veteran of community musical theater, having performed regularly in shows since the age of 6. Some of his past roles include Tiny Tim in “A Christmas Carol,” Michael Darling in “Peter Pan,” and Fletcher in “Freaky Friday.”
Danny fulfilled one of his pickleball goals this summer when he joined his dad as a sponsored player with Paddletek. Two of his sisters are also sponsored players. Danny’s future goals for pickleball include winning a gold medal at Nationals, becoming a 5.0 rated player by age 15, and eventually becoming a pro. He thinks it would be “cool” one day if pickleball became an Olympic sport and he could represent the USA. We both expect and look forward to seeing a lot more of Danny in the future!
Brother and sister duo Riley and Lindsey Newman are pickleball’s power pair!
Harnessing their passion for pickleball and drive to win, siblings Riley and Lindsey Newman are two of the best players in the world. Although they picked up their first paddles less than three years ago, they are a well-oiled machine on the court. Like most famous duos—think Venus and Serena Williams—they are the perfect pair! Pickleball Magazine recently caught up with the Newmans to find out why this tenacious twosome is tough to beat.
How did you get into pickleball?
Riley: Mark Cook, a friend in Seattle, got us into the sport. After only playing about a week or two, he told us we should play in a tournament in Oregon. Even though we didn’t have our own paddles, we entered into the pro mixed doubles bracket and won! We were hooked from then on. We actually slept in our car the night before the tournament in a casino parking lot, so it was a memorable trip for sure!
When you won that first tournament in Oregon, is that when you decided to become a doubles team?
Riley: The Oregon tournament was definitely an eye opener for us, since we took a break from tennis after our college playing days. We were both looking for that next competitive sport we could both play together. The timing couldn’t have been better! We committed to each other on that car ride home that we would take pickleball a lot more seriously and start practicing a lot more.
What do you like about pickleball?
Riley: Being able to travel around the country playing and teaching pickleball with each other has to be number one. We also love how many amazing people we’ve met playing this awesome sport.
Where do you teach?
Lindsey: We live in Arizona, so we do a lot of teaching there. However, we grew up in Washington state, so whenever we are home, we try to do some teaching there as well. We like to travel though, so we will go anywhere for an awesome teaching opportunity.
What is it that makes you such a strong team—what’s your strategy?
Riley: There are a couple of key characteristics that have brought us success in pickleball. First is our movement on the court. Lindsey and I move as one, and can switch mid-rally and know where each other is going to be at all times. Most teams would call “switch” or “stay”—Lindsey and I have that brother/sister bond where the verbal communication is not needed.
Second, our defense is scrappy. We don’t give away a lot of free points and we try to make our opponents earn everything. This puts pressure on them to go for shots they wouldn’t normally go for, because the ball keeps coming back. Third, being the only brother/sister team has more advantages than people might think.
What has been your best moment on the pickleball court?
Lindsey: I think one of our best moments was getting bronze at the 2019 US Open. We beat a lot of teams that most people probably didn’t think we had a chance at beating. We beat a top team that we both thought we didn’t stand a chance at beating to get bronze. After that win, I think we both realized that we might have a future in the sport. Another super-special moment was getting silver at Nationals (2019) and being on center court. Riley and I were sitting on the court and looking around at the full stadium and just trying to take it all in. It was by far the biggest stage we’d ever played on and a memory neither of us will forget.
Your worst moment on the court?
Lindsey: I wouldn’t say there has been a specific “worst moment” for us, but we definitely have our ups and downs. We’ve had a lot of really heart-wrenching losses though. We’ve been ahead in matches against some really great teams and we broke down either mentally and/or physically. Everyone says you learn more from your losses than your wins, but I’d much rather win and not learn a dang thing!
What’s the best pickleball advice you’ve been given?
Lindsey: We’ve been told that we need to be more aggressive players and we took that to heart. When we first started playing, and up until recently, we were known as defensive players only. Now, I think Riley and I have both added a lot of offensive weapons to our games that we didn’t have before.
Lindsey, what is Riley’s best strength in the game or in life?
I think Riley’s best strength in pickleball and in life is his strong desire to win and his hatred to lose. He’s by far one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met. He hates losing a game of Old Maid as much as he hates losing a championship match. It’s one of my favorite things about him and it makes him an awesome teammate for me since I hate losing just as much as he does.
Riley, what is Lindsey’s best strength in the game or in life?
I believe Lindsey’s best strength on the pickleball court is her defense! Some balls I’ll think there’s no way she’s getting, and not only does she get to it but puts a perfect drop back into the kitchen. Also, her playing style is easy to play with because she is super consistent and doesn’t make too many unforced errors. She has a huge heart off the court too; she’s always doing something for someone behind the scenes and never looks to take credit. She simply does nice things for people out of the kindness of her heart.
What is your favorite place to play?
Lindsey: Vail, Colorado; Kona, Hawaii; and Las Vegas, Nevada, are some of my favorite places to play based strictly on their location. However, I think playing at Nationals/Indian Wells is my favorite place to play. The atmosphere, weather, fans, competition and center court are all top-notch. I’m so bummed it was canceled this year, but I’ll be counting down the days until Nationals 2021.
Do your parents or siblings play pickleball?
Lindsey: There are seven kids in our family. Riley and I definitely play the most. We do have a couple of younger sisters and a brother who play. Kody is the youngest sibling and is a natural athlete, so it would be awesome for Riley and Kody to eventually play men’s doubles together. Our parents would prefer watching us play than playing themselves, and when our mom is in the stands, she’s often our loudest fan!
Riley: Our parents only play on our yearly family vacations, but they love to come and support in person when the schedule works out. They are our biggest fans on and off the court. Most of our siblings have now started playing and are really keen on improving. The pickleball world better watch out because you’ll be seeing more Newmans in the pro draw very soon!
Riley: Being on the podium at every major tournament and getting a sponsorship from Dairy Queen!
For many, the moniker “Big D” refers to the city of Dallas, Texas, where conversations are large and the stories told, even larger.
But perhaps one Big D—Doris Castaneda— though short in stature, is aptly named. At 91 years old, lovingly nicknamed Big D by her friends and fellow competitors, Doris was this year’s oldest playing participant in the 2019 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships.
As with most athletically inclined girls growing up prior to the enactment of Title IX in 1972, opportunities for Doris to excel on athletic fields were limited at best. But that didn't stop her. Living in the Cheviot Hills area of Los Angeles, there was a lot of open land around her house, so the neighborhood kids would play tag, hide and seek, and football.
“When a new house was built, we loved to play in the big piles of sand that were brought in,” she recalls. “My older brother could not go out and play unless he took me, so I was able to play with the neighborhood boys while my older sister and the girls played with dolls and read books. I knew early on that wasn’t for me, but sports were.”
Doris attended University High School. With no girls teams available, she joined the Girls Athletic Association after school and played a variety of sports, including softball, basketball and volleyball. The impenetrable spirit that fuels her pickleball passion today was borne out of these activities early in her life. One of Doris’ goals in fact was to make the United States Olympic Team. She excelled in numerous events—most notably, discus and sprints—but in the Olympic Trials for the Summer Games in 1948 in London and the ’52 Games in Helsinki, her qualifying performances fell short for inclusion on the U.S. squad. Earning a Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education from St. Mary’s College in Kansas, Doris headed back west to get her master’s in Phys Ed and her teaching credentials from USC. In 1950, during her time as a Trojan, in a folk dance class, she met the love of her life, Sal Castaneda. They were married 59 years before Sal passed away from metastatic skin cancer in 2014. While Doris continued her athletic exploits, especially on the pickleball court, one regret is that her beloved Sal cannot see firsthand how well she is playing: “Continuing my life without my husband and partner since college, I have all these things I want to share with him.”
With a personal motto of “Just keep moving,” Doris is certainly doing just that. Every day she ventures out to play pickleball, bocce and paddle tennis. The latter sport is one she has excelled in for many years. So much so that she was inducted into the Paddle Tennis Hall of Fame in 2010 in Venice Beach, the first woman to achieve that honor.
Doris’ love of the ocean led to a lifelong love of surfing. During her college days at USC, she would travel to Hawaii and work at the local YWCA in Honolulu. And while the waves that Duke Kahanamoku made world famous fully whetted her appetite for the sport, Doris also felt the urge to travel to Fiji once or twice a year to “hang ten.” She continued this yearly trek until she was well into her 80s!
Back on the mainland, while raising four children, the always-energetic Doris followed her love of sports and began coaching. She successfully passed all her exams to be a college coach in 1969 when athletic women were still not taken seriously. “There were three parts I had to complete—demonstrating playing and teaching, appearance, and personal interview,” recalls Doris. “I friend Hilary Marold. “I went to the USAPA Nationals in Casa Grande, Arizona, the very first major tournament I entered, and won the 80+ women’s singles,” says Doris. “It was very similar to paddle tennis, so I knew that I could excel at it pretty quickly.”
After Nationals, Roland Sunga, currently teaching pickleball at the Larry Maxam Recreation Center in Burbank, California, taped out a court and put up a portable net at a local Beach Club that Doris played at quite often. Roland and Doris and a couple of others would play every Wednesday, and quickly people began taking notice. Soon, the sport of pickleball became a favorite of many, and Doris and Roland would be at the forefront of the newest sport craze, conducting clinics and staging tournaments.
Feeling right at home with a paddle in her hands, Doris quickly became an elite player in her age group. At the tender age of 88, at the 2015 Nationals, she took home gold medals in women’s singles and doubles in 80+ and a silver medal in mixed doubles 80+. Recently, at the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah, Doris captured two gold medals, one of them in mixed doubles with her playing partner, 92-year-old Army Matern.
At this year’s Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships, Doris competed in the 3.0 division, 75+, 85+ in women’s singles and was edged out of a gold medal by Joyce Jones, losing in the finals 11-8 and 11-2. In doubles, she brought home another silver, teaming with Ron Schmeck. The duo lost the gold to Elaine Brady and Kenny Lewis. Two more silver medals for Doris to add to her collection.
Despite battling osteoporosis and incidences of skin cancer, Doris Castaneda is forever rekindling that spirit of competitiveness spawned from those early days on sand-filled hills outside of L.A. While some girls gave up trying to buck the system, Doris persevered and forged a lifetime of memories on numerous athletic fields and now is having the time of her life on the pickleball court. A lifetime that is the envy of many, and while she is not overly fond of her nickname, it clearly resonates throughout the world of pickleball and is spoken in awe and reverence.
J Gizmo Hall
J “Gizmo” Hall’s introduction to pickleball was watching a game played by women in their 70s at his local gym in Virginia, where he did cardio and played basketball to stay
fit for his firefighter job.
“I heard this sound when I was leaving the basketball court. It sounded like ping-pong, but different, so I decided to peek around the corner and check it out,” Hall says. “I saw three nets set up and a few older folks, and this woman said, ‘Hey, this is pickleball. Do you want me to show you how it’s played?’”
Hall declined and focused on taking in this sport he’d never seen before. Later in the week, he heard the sounds again, and went back for another look.
“The same people were playing, and this time the woman grabbed me and said, ‘You don’t get to peek around the corner twice and not play.’”
To say that woman changed Hall’s trajectory in life would be an understatement. He left firefighting last September, although he still has the certifications and qualifications to serve in Virginia, and made the decision to go pro in pickleball. It was a huge decision for Hall, who not only served as a firefighter, but who also owns and operates a family farm with his wife and two children in northern Virginia.
“We raise chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, goats, mini donkeys and ducks, as well as food crops. When I’m home from the road, that’s all I do—crash hard in the garden, make sure it’s all turnkey for my wife, then I’m back out there,” he says. “My kids are 6 and 7 years old and they’ll grab the eggs out of the nesting boxes. It teaches responsibility and I want to raise them the right way. I’ve been a city boy my whole life and it wears you down. I told my wife we needed at least five acres in the country and she found us 10 with a pond. She supports me 110 percent. She supported us moving to a farm and she supports my goal of going pro in pickleball.”
While the whole family enjoys the sport—they play tournaments together when they can—Hall’s obsession with pickleball goes above and beyond your casual player.
“I just started playing four, five days a week, driving multiple hours to find the best competition I could. We’re about an hour north of Richmond, on Pickleball Farm—that’s the name of our farm. To compete, I’d go to Richmond, Charlottesville or all the way to Baltimore,” he recalls. “People thought I was crazy to chase this dream to go pro, and I said, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t put your limitations on me. I appreciate the opinion, but I’m gone.’”
But it’s not just that he’s gone from being a neophyte in the sport to a Gamma-sponsored 4.5 player that’s impressive, it’s what he’s accomplished along the way. He earned a bronze in the 4.0 Singles during Nationals at Indian Wells in 2018, and he’s become a memorable player for many reasons. Some may recognize his nickname, “Gizmo,” called over the loudspeakers at matches or his trademark cheeseburger outfits on the court. However, despite the rock-star glam he demonstrates, it’s his ambassadorship and work with kids he’s really known for.
“I grew up in a broken home. My mom worked two and three jobs to make ends meet. Not having a positive role model, while it’s not an excuse, I got into things I shouldn’t have, so I wanted to help other kids so they didn’t make the same mistakes I did. I want to teach them how they can do things that are more productive. If I can reach one kid, it’s all worth it,” he says. “So my goal with pickleball is to reach the youth and be your favorite player.”
Hall unabashedly charges the court draped in cheeseburger pattern fabrics—whether it’s jerseys, leggings, capes or whatever he feels like wearing that day—all so fans can say, “The guy in cheeseburgers? That’s Gizmo.” But it’s more than a gimmick. There’s personal meaning behind his carnivore style. He calls easy lobs “cheeseburgers,” the kind you just drool over, ready for you to crack. And, there’s literal cheeseburgers that he loves and eats regularly.
Hall’s nickname was the name of his first dog and has stuck with him since he was 14, but he’s found it helps him stand out in tournament settings when it’s announced over the loudspeakers.
“There’s not many African Americans in this sport in general, not many with dreadlocks, and nobody wearing cheeseburgers,” he adds. “You’ll remember me for how I play or how I dress, but at the end of the day, you’re going to remember me.”
As the sport of pickleball sweeps the nation, grabbing up youth and high-level tennis competition, Marcin Rozpedski, at age 41, still stands out as the best singles player in the game.
Earlier this year, Rozpedski took gold at the first-ever U.S. Open Pickleball Championships in Naples, Florida. Last month, however, he retained the sport’s biggest trophy, taking the singles gold medal at the 2016 National Championships in Casa Grande, Arizona.
Born in Warsaw, Poland, Rozpedski moved to the United States when he was 14 with the dream of being the number-one tennis player in the world. By the time he was 18, he won the Polish National Championship and became number one in Poland, eventually competing in the Davis Cup for Poland as well as in the Wimbledon, French and U.S. Open junior tournaments. Rozpedski’s highest ATP singles ranking was 273rd in the world and 250th in doubles.
Rozpedski began playing pickleball two-and-a-half years ago when a few of his tennis friends—who are also tennis pros—invited him to play.
“At first I thought it was so easy, but then I realized there’s a lot more than just blasting hard balls at each other,” he recalled.
Last year, Rozpedski entered the National Championships singles competition and ran through the field, defeating Daniel Moore in the finals. Earlier this year, he traveled to Naples and took the inaugural U.S. Open tournament by storm, winning the singles.
“I have played at the U.S. Open in New York as a professional tennis player, so the name U.S. Open Pickleball reminded me of the Grand Slam tennis tournament. The Pickleball U.S. Open championship was a dream come true. After the last point I broke down in tears—that’s how important it was for me to win the title.”
In November, Rozpedski returned to action at the National Championships, facing the deepest singles competition draw that pickleball has ever seen. With young players such as Kyle Yates, Daniel Moore and Tyson McGuffin, the big question was whether Rozpedski could hold on. In the end, he overcame a close match with McGuffin to take the title.
Rozpedski explained, “Being the National Champion is the highest pickleball honor—especially when the competition is getting better and younger. The game has become much more physical due to the number of tennis players participating. I hope that the public will continue to come out to support the singles as much as the doubles events.”
Pickleball is a family affair for the Rozpedskis, who live in Bermuda Dunes, California. “My wife, Carly, started playing about three months ago and is having a blast,” he says. His 16-year-old son, Christian, won the silver medal in singles and bronze in doubles with his partner, Chad Hamner, at his second pickleball tournament ever played. His younger sons, Charley and Chance, also enjoy the game.
Marcin Rozpedski is the sports director at The Lakes Country Club in Palm Desert, California. He has also been Head Pro at the Ritz Carlton Hotel and the Indian Ridge Country Club. On the coaching side, he has been the Head Tennis Coach for the College of the Desert and has traveled with Ana Ivanovic as she won tennis’ French Open Championship as well as serving as the hitting partner for Victoria Azarenka as she became number one in the world in tennis.
The son of Jason and Nichole Munro, Jack was introduced to pickleball 18 months ago. He started playing when a torn rotator cuff sidelined him from playing baseball.
“My dad was playing pickleball, so I started playing left-handed because my right hand was in a sling. That’s why I am now ambidextrous. I loved pickleball so much that I quit baseball altogether.”
Jack was first noticed by Pickleball Magazine at the USAPA Nationals last November in Arizona where, at age 11, he took: Gold in the 11-14 Boys Singles, Gold in the 11-14 Mixed Doubles, and Silver in the 11-18 Boys Doubles.
Jack said, “I have a lot of medals. I don’t remember every one of them but they’re all in my room.” He added, “I remember the (2) Gold and Silver medals from the Nationals the most.”
An avid athlete, Jack is now focusing on pickleball. He said, “Pickleball is awesome in general. You don’t have to run and sprint as much as tennis and there are barely any injuries.”
Asked about his future, he said, “There are four things I am thinking about doing when I get older: 1.) I want to be an architect for big houses 2.) It would be a dream to play in the NBA 3.) Being a pickleball pro would be fun and 4.) Of course, taking over my dad’s insurance business would be great.”
Jack has another goal, one he is very likely to achieve: “In pickleball, I would like to win an open tournament. I would also like to be the youngest person to win a 5.0 or Open Tournament.” We’re confident he’ll do both very soon.
Yvonne Hackenberg discusses her longevity in the sport and why she loves it.
In Yvonne Hackenberg’s house, pickleball is a multigenerational sport. From her 90-year-old mother, to her
daughter, to her grandchildren, there isn’t anyone in her family that the game hasn’t touched in some way.
“Racquet sports have played a large role in my life,” says the Hall-of-Famer. “Junior tennis morphed into college tennis, which became platform tennis and paddleball and then pickleball. Even my first date with my husband Jim was on a tennis court. I am very grateful that Jim and I now have a shared passion for pickleball.”
She adds, “The thing about pickleball that gets you is that the people are number one. They’re very welcoming and you go out, have a good time playing, and go to Starbucks afterward. The physical aspect of the game is also a plus. Pickleball keeps you moving and physically fit, and pickleball addicts will do anything to keep playing.”
And she’s not kidding about that last part. Life in the warm Arizona climate affords Hackenberg the chance to play whenever she wants, which is mostly every day. Currently her schedule has her playing five days a week.
Despite her rigorous practice schedule and a lifetime of experience in racquet sports, Hackenberg said that when it comes down to it, she prefers playing doubles over singles every time.
“I like the shared experience,” she explains. “I love doubles because I love the dynamic of trying to combine with someone else to bring out the best in them in order for our team to succeed, and I’m very aware of not doing things that are going to take away from that.”
Her advice with regard to doubles is backed up by her eight platform tennis national titles (including induction into the Platform Tennis Hall of Fame), 12 national pickleball titles and one national paddleball title — all of which were earned as part of a doubles team. When asked what’s left on her pickleball bucket list, Hackenberg said that her main goal is to win the Huntsman Games in the 90+ mixed doubles with her husband.
For a woman who has spent her entire sporting life excelling in the doubles arena – she gives her partners much of the credit.
“I want to give thanks to Jim, Hilary, Robin, Linda, and Caprice for carrying me,” she said, enumerating her partners over the years. And while she humbly makes light of her wins, Hackenberg said that she pays attention to the other competitors on the courts and likes what she sees, especially among the younger players coming up and people migrating to pickleball from other sports as it gains in popularity. They have speed, agility and a real passion for the game.
For now, Hackenberg is excited about the US Open and for the Pickleball Association to complete the new ratings initiative. As a senior player, she said she focuses on the elements of the game where she needs to improve as well as outside fitness to stay in peak form. As a born team player, Hackenberg loves evolving as a player and becoming the best doubles partner she can be. As a competitor, she said the learning never stops.
“You don’t reach a point where you think you have it all,” she explains. “You can always learn from other people. Incorporating that is tough, but you never stop learning the game. ”
Eight years ago, Mona Burnett was riding her bicycle past the Sun City Grand’s pickleball courts in Surprise,
Arizona, when she noticed a swarm of activity. A fan of racquet sports, she was intrigued by the gameplay on the courts. She asked a few questions, signed up for an introductory lesson, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Burnett, 58, has become one of the game’s most dominant players. At the 2015 USAPA Nationals, she racked up five gold medals, sweeping each division in which she played, including Women’s Doubles Age 55+ with partner Luba Zhekhovskaya, Mixed Doubles Age 55+ with partner Tyler Sheffield, Women’s Singles Age 55+, Senior Open Women’s Doubles with Zhekhovskaya and Senior Open Mixed Doubles with partner Scott Moore.
“It was an experience that is probably a once-in-a-lifetime achievement and I feel so fortunate to have had the experience,” says Burnett, who is retired from the real estate industry. “Not once did I ever think that I would win every bracket that I entered, but it sure was a fun ride!” After her singles win, a friend informed her that she had made a clean sweep of each division she had entered in her age bracket.
“At that point, the thought crossed my mind that five gold medals was a possibility. As any competitor knows, these are thoughts that you cannot focus on or you tighten up considerably on the court. So, now the challenge was to stay grounded and allow Luba and me to play our best in the final match of the tournament. When Luba and I won the Senior Open Women’s Doubles, and had only one event left, the situation become more real than ever,” she says.
Her final event was the Senior Open Mixed gold-medal match with partner Moore.
“When Scott and I won the Senior Open Mixed Doubles gold, I was so excited that I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I was ecstatic,” she recalls.
Burnett said the most challenging part of her five-bracket sweep was the bronze- medal match of the Senior Open Women’s Doubles bracket.
“We won the first game, lost the second game and were down 10-7 in the third game,” she explains. “We actually lost the final point of the match, but then heard ‘foot fault,’ which gave us the side out. We fought hard and it took two side outs, but we managed to prevail over our opponents 12-10 in the third game.”
Burnett, who splits her time between Surprise, Arizona, and her native Canada, says her skills from playing squash transferred over “quite nicely” to the game of pickleball.
In addition to her success at Nationals, Burnett has medaled in many prestigious North American tournaments, including the Tournament of Champions, the Huntsman World Senior Games, the Grand Canyon State Games, the SoCal Classic and the Canadian Western Nationals. She is also the 2011 USAPA Nationals Mixed Open Gold Medalist and the 2014 USAPA Nationals Senior Women’s Doubles Gold Medalist, and at the 2015 Tournament of Champions, she won gold in Senior Women’s Doubles and silver in both Senior Mixed Doubles and Senior Women’s Singles events.
“I enjoy the competition, playing outdoors in the sunshine and the challenge of constantly improving, but I think most of all I enjoy the pickleball community,” she says. “I have met people who never would have come into my life if it hadn’t been for pickleball. It’s a sport that anyone can play, young or old!”
For national champion Dave Weinbach, pickleball has become a family affair.
Weinbach’s introduction to the sport came while he was visiting his parents who had moved to Surprise, Arizona, from their native Wisconsin. While playing tennis with his dad, he witnessed a gathering of people on the nearby courts. Curious, he asked what sport the group was playing. After a quick introduction, one of the players asked Weinbach if he wanted to give pickleball a try.
After just a few minutes on the court, he was hooked.
“Not only is it terrific exercise, but it’s also extremely fun. It’s a great way to meet new people and make new friends,” says Weinbach, 46, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin. “It’s very addictive.”
Soon, Weinbach’s entire family was playing the sport, including his wife Dina and his three boys: Jake, 16, Ryan, 15, and Sam, 11. As a testament to their family’s love for the sport, the Weinbachs built their very own pickleball court on the side of their house last summer.
“The boys enjoy playing against each other and with their friends,” says Weinbach, who is the CEO of his own firm, Weinbach Investment Management, LLC. “Now we can play whenever we want.”
It’s safe to say that Weinbach’s self- described obsession with the sport has paid off. He’s quickly become a fierce competitor on the national pickleball circuit, racking up an impressive collection of gold medals.
In 2014, at his first tournament in Rockfield, Illinois, he took home the gold in both Men’s Doubles and Men’s Singles. He then moved on to the 2014 USAPA Nationals in Arizona, where he won gold in Men’s Singles 35+. In the Grand Canyon State Games in February 2015, he won gold in both the Open Men’s Doubles and Ages Doubles with partner Justin Rodgers.
In June, at the SoCal Classic in Oceanside, California, he won gold in Open Men’s Doubles alongside partner Kyle Yates and also took gold with Jennifer Lucore in Mixed Doubles. He then went on to win gold in Men’s Doubles with partner Bill Ritchie at the Regional Midwest tournament in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In August, at the USAPA Regionals in Fort Wayne, Weinbach earned two gold medals: one with Yates in Men’s Doubles, and another with partner Stephanie Lane in Mixed Doubles. At the Fall Brawl in St. George, Utah, in October, he earned silver in Men’s Doubles with partner Brian Ashworth and then claimed another national title with gold in Men’s Doubles 35+ at the USAPA Nationals in November.
At the Grand Canyon State Games this past February, Weinbach earned yet another gold medal in the Men’s Doubles 19+ division with partner Scott Moore, who is 53.
]“Our combined ages were almost 100, and we won the gold over two great young players, Kyle Yates and Wes Gabrielson, who are good friends of mine,” says Weinbach.
Weinbach, who also enjoys platform tennis, golf, basketball and fishing, says that part of the beauty of the game is that it takes him to locations that he never would have explored otherwise. It’s also allowed him to form solid friendships with players from all over the U.S.
“Even though we compete against each other on the court, we all become friends off the court,” he adds.
One of his goals is to help grow the game both locally and nationwide, and says that younger people shouldn’t be discouraged by the misconception that pickleball is a sport just for seniors.
Weinbach also helped form, along with Seymour Rifkind, the International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association (IPTPA), whose purpose is to certify and elevate the standard of the pickleball teaching profession.
“It’s the fastest growing sport in the country, and the reason is that anyone can play — it doesn’t matter if you’re 5 or 100,” he says. “It’s an exciting form of exercise and a great way to meet new people in your community and form new friendships.