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’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.
Standout players Simone Paiva Jardim and Corrine Carr are quickly becoming prodigies on the pickleball court.
Carr, 27, and Jardim, 36, won gold and silver, respectively, at the USAPA Nationals VII in Casa Grande, Arizona, in November.
Jardim, a native of Santa Maria, Brazil, won gold in open women’s singles and in open mixed doubles with partner Rafael Siebenschein. Jardim was a two-time All-American tennis player at Fresno State, and now serves as the tennis head coach at Michigan State University. She has been playing pickleball for almost a year.
Carr, a native of Pinehurst, North Carolina, who now lives in East Lansing, Michigan, won silver with Jardim in the National Open Women’s Doubles. Carr, who has been playing pickleball for about two years, played championship golf for the University of South Carolina, where she majored in math and finance. She’s currently in graduate school at Michigan State, pursuing her Ph.D. in finance.
Both women say friends invited them to try the sport.
“I thought the game looked odd and I didn’t think there was any way I would like it,” says Carr. “I played a lot of sports growing up and played golf and tennis at a high level, so when I heard about pickleball, my first response was, ‘Pickleball! What is that?’ But I got hooked. I love the game and now play it more than anything else!”
Jardim says her friend, Walter Pelowski, told her she should try the sport.
“He was in a league at the time, playing with Dan O’Toole, and told him that he should get me to join their group,” she said. “So, Dan showed up at the tennis facility where I work, and from then on, I started playing at least once a week with Dan, Corrine, Walter and many other friends.”
Jardim, who has two children with husband Chad Edwards, says that she played her first tournament last May in Kalamazoo, which was when she truly got “hooked” on the sport.
“I met some great people who I call great friends now,” she says. “People have been extremely friendly and the environment is awesome.”
Both players are racking up impressive pickleball stats.
In 2015, at the Royal Oak Skill Level Pickleball Tournament, Carr placed first in mixed doubles with Kyle Yates and in women’s doubles with Laura Fenton. Also in 2015, at the Fall Brawl Pickleball Tournament, she placed second in mixed doubles with Matt Staub and women’s doubles again with Fenton. She also won first place in singles in the USAPA Pacific Northwest Regional Big Country RV Bend Pickleball Tournament.
In the Second Annual Pickleball Fever in the Zoo, Carr won first place in mixed doubles with O’Toole and won the women’s doubles division with Jardim.
“I have a blast playing the game and I love the people I’ve met,” says Carr. “I’ve made some great friends through pickleball. Also, although I’m young, I love that I can play pickleball every day and feel like I’m not tearing apart my body.”
While pickleball feeds Jardim’s competitive spirit, she says that it’s the social aspect of the game that she enjoys the most.
“I believe pickleball is one of the few sports you can play with or against people of any age,” she states. “Every Wednesday night, I get to play pickleball with my friends, and after we get to hang out and talk about anything.”
Carr agrees. “It’s a great game. Pickleball is not difficult to pick up and it’s loads of fun. It’s a game anyone can enjoy on some level, unlike many other sports. It’s a great way for people of any age to exercise and have fun.”
Fifteen-year-old Nathan Tang enjoys playing pickleball with his friends, family, and other players around the state of Arizona. His love for pickleball began one summer when the local tennis courts had been converted to pickleball. His family decided to give this unique and interesting sport a try and has never looked back. For the past three years, pickleball has become Nathan’s primary passion.
Currently, Nathan is competing at the 4.5 level. His goal is to be a 5.0 level player within the next two years, and he is thankful to Selkirk Sport for providing him with gear and apparel. Since he started competing in tournaments, Nathan has won three medals at the Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships (gold, silver and bronze) and several medals at the Fall Brawl, California State Games, and other tournaments around the country.
For Nathan, the peak of competition was not winning a medal but instead participating in the USAPA Juniors Party that was held at Indian Wells. This event is a highlight every year because he meets other junior players from all over the country. He also gets to play fun games with various pros from Sick Trx including Brian Ashworth, Irina Tereschenko and Kyle Yates.
Nathan has volunteered extensively as an ambassador for the sport and frequently assists with the pickleball program at VICTORIUM in Scottsdale, Arizona, which is run by his parents, Amy and Lester Tang. In the summer of 2018, he was co- instructor of a two-week summer camp for juniors who were new to the sport. Nathan also helped direct two local tournaments and manage leagues for beginners and intermediate players who are trying to improve their game. This past fall, he was an instructor for a fundraiser run by the nonprofit organization Pickleball Incubator, which provides funding for pickleball programs in schools. He has helped players younger than 10 through older than 70 learn the fundamentals of the sport.
Nathan is a sophomore at BASIS Scottsdale charter school, a nationally top-ranked high school known for its highly rigorous academic program. As he approaches college, he hopes there will be a chance to join a college pickleball team or create a team if one is not already present. Nathan also hopes to see pickleball become an Olympic sport, allowing both juniors and adults to participate in the games.
Although pickleball is Nathan’s favorite sport now, he grew up playing many other sports. Before pickleball, he had placed in three National Chess Championships, progressed to the State Championship in baseball, and won many USTA Junior Tennis tournaments. Over the years, Nathan has realized that while playing with people of all ages is fun, playing with other junior players is the most rewarding to him. Therefore, he wishes to inspire more young players to become passionate about pickleball. He hopes to be given the opportunity to meet with juniors around the country to help grow the sport and spread the joy of pickleball.
At 19, Ben Johns is already leaving his mark on the world. In both his athletic and academic lives, Johns is on the offensive, but in the world of pickleball, he’s absolutely on fire—ascending to one of the top two singles players in the world.
Johns picked up his first tennis racket at age 8. Since then, he’s played nearly every racquet sport, contributing to his offensive style of play. But when he discovered pickleball, everything changed.
“I struggled with it at first,” he said. “There’s a lot of patience involved in how you play the game. I’ve always been aggressive in my tennis game, but you can’t do that in pickleball. Getting the hang of that is the biggest challenge.”
But once he got the hang of it, Johns took off. He medaled in every tournament he played in 2017.
An endorsed player for Engage, he still uses the Elite Pro racquet in all his matches and has no intention of changing — “It fits my game style.”
With Nationals behind him, Johns’ attention off the court is on academics. He’s a freshman at the University of Maryland, majoring in operations management. He also has political aspirations and wants to get involved in local government. “I’d like to get into politics at some point. I have my mind set on it. My friends have a half-running joke that I aspire to be President one day,” he said. “Maryland is close to D.C., and it’s a good area if you want to get into politics.”
While Johns teaches pickleball on and off, setting up pickleball nets on local tennis courts, he doesn’t get the chance to play much in Maryland. “The Northeast is ‘slim pickins’ for pickleball,” he said.
Despite the lack of local public courts, Johns focuses on his game and says pickleball has changed how he thinks about playing other strategic games, including chess and tennis. His brother, a professional tennis player, has taken notice. “He knew I hadn’t been playing much tennis, but when I came back home and we played, he said I was so much better. That’s because of pickleball,” Johns said. “My focus wasn’t there [in my tennis game]. I wouldn’t concentrate enough. Pickleball has helped me find that zone—not just for tennis, but in a lot of other things.”
When Yaki-ma, Washington, tennis pro Tyson McGuffin first came to pickleball, he came as a tennis player. Now that he has more than a few gold medals for singles playing under his belt, McGuffin has come to realize that the real challenge in pickleball is in doubles play, where gold has been elusive for many with a tennis mindset.
“I think a lot of tennis players can relate to the transition I had,” McGuffin said. “Singles was an easy transition for me. My tennis background is to play fast. I have a crafty, slice and dice game, and for pickleball, that was a good transition.”
But, when he started playing, that speed and samurai style of play seemed out of place during his first matches at his local YMCA on a gym floor with a judge ball, surround- ed by 60-plus senior players.
“I kind of thought pickleball was a little goofy when I first started out,” he said. “I had no idea there were tournaments, or younger guys for that matter, in this sport. And then, when it came to doubles, I was a 5.5 tennis player coming in and losing to 4.5 pickleball players in their 60s. Playing doubles was definitely the toughest transition for me.”
Slowing down an aggressive player who’s coming from the world of tennis is more of a mental stretch than any- thing, one that many players never overcome. McGuffin came face-to-face with that reality and had a decision to make: wrap his head around the doubles game or remain in singles. He chose the former, but it wasn’t easy.
“I had to slow my game way down, play boring pickleball, concentrate on all the dinking, which is hard when you want to play aggressive,” he said. “But I decided to plow through, get my feet wet, figure things out, figure out the softness of doubles and how slow the game is and get used to it.”
Finding a partner to help him meet these goals was also an essential part of the equation.
McGuffin said that’s when a gentleman named Chris Miller stepped in and matched him up with his current partner, Matt Goebel, another tennis player out of Spokane who shared much of the same style McGuffin possesses.
“Trying to find a partner is so difficult, especially for a newbie coming in. Chris put us in contact and we had a lot in common: he was new, I was new; he played super aggressive, I played the same way. We had the same game style, so it’s been meshing and getting better ever since. We played Chris Miller all last year and he kicked our butts, and this year it’s been back and forth and pretty even. And we’ve learned a lot—you’ll get good advice from the competition. I’m actually loving doubles now because I kind of know how to play.”
Together, McGuffin and Goebel are making names for themselves in the Pacific Northwest as one of the top doubles teams in the region, and one of the top 10 teams in the country. They’re competing in all of the larger national tournaments and placing in the top five wherever they go, and just being a match away from bronze on several occasions, like the US Open.
“Our doubles games have gotten tremendously better,” McGuffin said. “We’ve gone from super aggressive to drill- ing a lot and understanding how to dink. With all the drill- ing, we’re headed in the right direction. We’re probably still a little too quick to be aggressive against the better teams, so we need to discipline ourselves to dial it back and wait a little more. But overall, we’ve done really well.”
And, as a Selkirk-sponsored tennis pro, McGuffin was quick to add that the new style of play he’s learned from pickleball has translated well for him back on the regular tennis court, dispelling the myth that pickleball ruins your tennis game.
“I feel like my hands in tennis have definitely sped up with how fast the ball’s moving in pickleball. It definitely improves hand reactions, and speed,” he said. “Once in awhile, I’ll fling a little too much on tennis volleys now, but that’s easy to correct. The hand speed, mobility at the net, being quick overall, and being on my toes have all gotten better thanks to pickleball. If you’re playing balanced tennis and pickleball, it can only add to your game.”
eorge Charles Kent, 97, is the patriarch of the Lake Oswego Pickleball Club. Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, he moved to the U.S. after high school and graduated from Ohio State University in 1943. Toward the end of World War II, as an enlisted man in the Army, George was stationed in Portland, Oregon, where he learned map-making skills. The team used aerial photos to construct topographic maps for the possible invasion of Japan. Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed everything.
After V-J Day, he was sent to Manila, and later Tokyo, where he took advanced math, engineering and strength of materials classes provided by the Army.
Upon returning to the U.S., George was re-employed by American Can, in Maywood, Illinois, where he had worked prior to the war. He then went on to Russel Electric, a small company that made motors for jukeboxes, owned by Hotpoint, based in Chicago. In 1949, he met his future wife Barbara, a dietician, who worked at a TB hospital. They were married March 4, 1950. A lifelong learner, in 1953 he completed his master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Daughter Debbie was born in 1954 followed by Trisha in 1956.
In 1962, at age 41, George relocated his family back to Oregon. They settled in Lake Oswego, where he purchased a sailboat and joined the Rose City Yacht Club. Still an active member, tray in hand and khaki-clad, he recently served ladies at the club’s annual dinner. The scenic Columbia River Gorge, serene waters of the San Juan Islands, and—accessible only by boat—Octopus Islands in Canada were some of the family’s many sailing destinations.
He worked for Viewmaster in Beaverton for 10 years, then Drake Willock, a company that made dialysis machines. Dow Chemical eventually bought Drake, so George is considered a retired Dow employee.
George had learned to play tennis and downhill ski at the age of 8 in the Czech Republic. Moving to Oregon reignited his love for both. Towering evergreens, stunning fall foliage and craggy mountainous areas were reminiscent of his childhood home. At 95, he gave up both. One week later, after a gentle nudge from his friend of nine years, Steve Boyle, George hit the pickleball court. He’s been a regular ever since.
Though most of George’s childhood friends are gone, he’s optimistic: “Pickleball keeps me moving, people are very tolerant of my mistakes and the group couldn’t be nicer.”
According to a 2012 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, loneliness is a contributing cause of “functional decline and an increased risk of death among adults older than 60.” George counts dozens of new friends. Many joined together to celebrate his 97th birthday last March donning t-shirts that read, “George, at 97, is our SUPER HERO.”
And although George can’t “change the course of mighty rivers” or “bend steel in his bare hands,” he is our Superman—and like his t-shirt reads, pickleball is his SUPERPOWER!