‘Anyone from 8 to 80 can play:’ Over 1,000 seniors participate in national pickleball tournament – Sun Sentinel

Fort Lauderdale – About 1,500 pickleball players, all 50 and older, are participating in a national championship in Fort Lauderdale this week. A thousand more people came out to watch and cheer on their friends, family and favorite teams. The oldest player this year is 92 years old.

“I think anyone who takes the paddle and tries, they get hooked,” said Lee Ingram, 53, a tournament participant.

The event was organized by the National Senior Games Association, which brings together thousands of athletes from around the world at its annual events, according to tournament director David Jordan.

Last year was held in Albuquerque and saw just under 14,000 athletes who competed in approximately 20 individual and team sports. This year was held at the Broward County Convention Center.

Officials do not yet have a total number of athletes who will have competed this year, but they have seen a steady increase in numbers since their start in 1987, when 2,500 athletes competed in 15 sports at their inaugural event in St Louis, Mo.

“Everyone seems to be having a good time,” Jordan said. “The turnout was great. It was way more than we expected. Last year we had 1,200 [pickleball players] in Albuquerque and we thought that was probably about as many as we would get here, but we actually had 1,700 sign-ups, but because of COVID we had about 200 dropouts.

No major issues were reported, Jordan said, other than a few minor computer glitches.

The seniors competed in a room on the second floor of the convention center as attendees watched the balls fly back and forth. More competitive games have seen dozens of people gathered in front of the courts, cheering loudly when their favorite team has triumphed.

For those who don’t play, pickleball is often described as a mix of tennis, ping pong, badminton, and racquetball. The court is about half the size of a tennis court and generally requires less running, especially in two-on-two matches.

Tim Craig competed on Saturday and has been playing pickleball since 2016 and is an instructor in Texas. He will compete again on Tuesday.

The game has exploded in popularity over the past 10 years and developers are incorporating more pickleball courts into new senior communities, according to Craig, 60, of Phleugerville, Texas. “Anyone from 8 to 80 can play.”

Attendees and players appreciated that the games were held indoors and away from the heat, although several players lamented how smooth the playing surface was.

The oldest competitor in this year’s pickleball tournament was Joyce Jones, 92, of Seattle. She was not at the event on Sunday, however, as her matches ended the day before.

Ingram had just lost his last game after a series of several wins and losses in his tournament bracket. She has been playing for about four years. An older friend had tried to get her to play pickleball years ago, “but I said it was an old person’s game,” said Ingram, of Auburn, Ala.

“But she was so persistent that she got me out before 50 and I’m hooked.”

Next year’s Senior National Games will be held in Pittsburgh.

Austen Erblat can be reached at [email protected]954-599-8709 or on Twitter @AustenErblat.