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Pickleball, it’s been well documented, is the fastest growing sport in North America.
So it figures that Pickleball for Mental Health, a tournament based at the Penticton Pickleball Club and now in its second year, is certainly one of the fastest growing sports competitions in the South Okanagan.
In its 2022 debut, the tourney, a collaboration between the Pickleball Club and the Canadian Mental Health Association's South Okanagan Similkameen branch, attracted 132 players. That was a healthy start.
But in its second iteration just this past weekend, no less than 170 players were registered. Granted, a few of them ultimately couldn’t make it due to Hwy 97 rockslide travel hassles. Nevertheless, the event, backed by title sponsor Nor-Val Rentals and Sales, was by far the largest pickleball tournament ever in the South Okanagan.
Given that each player bucked up to the tune of $65 (for registration) and then $10 per event, and considering the Pickleball Club generously offered freebie court usage and even provided officials and assorted volunteers free of charge, CMHA South Okanagan Similkameen executive director (and avid pickleball player) Leah Schulting was all smiles Saturday afternoon.
Those smiles undoubtedly intensified Monday when it was revealed the total amount raised had reached a whopping $35,000. That's $4,000 more than 2022, and they're still counting.
"It's wonderful," she said. "All the proceeds go to the CMHA. We'll use some of it to run our suicide prevention training. And some goes to our clubhouse for folks with mental illness, which is open seven days a week.
"Our lunch program provides healthy, nutritious meals every day and we have a mental health advocate who provides one on one support. This will help with all of that."
Just as upbeat Saturday was the team of Summerland's Karen Jones and Penticton's Carel Froneman. They'd just been involved in the gold medal game of the 3.5 (skill rating) 60 and over group.
It was a hard-fought contest with tight scores throughout and several long rallies that had the crowd buzzing. But in the end, Jones and Froneman prevailed.
It was a super solid effort for two players that hadn’t ever partnered together before the tournament.
"She called me," joked Froneman, a Penticton club regular who's 74 years young and started playing two and a half years ago.
"My husband tore his Achilles," said Jones, who's been playing pickleball four years, primarily at the Peach Orchard Campground in lower Summerland. "Carel and I have never played together, so it was a great result."
Both are big believers in the social aspects of the game.
"I've met a whole group of people I didn’t even know and I've lived in Summerland for 30 years," said Jones, who plays even more now that she's retired. "I didn’t even know Carel 'til last year."
"It's a game of fun," said Froneman. "It's very social. It's like tennis but the courts are smaller and you're much closer together. And you have fun and you laugh at and with each other."
We asked if anyone ever gets angry and abuses officials and tosses racquets around like John McEnroe, and were laughingly told that "pickleball players don’t put up with that much."
Jones and Froneman then took a few minutes to teach us about "dinking," essentially a deceptive pickleball shot that barely clears the net and drops softly on the other side, theoretically throwing competitors off their game -- not unlike the tennis drop shot.
One day we'll actually try the sport and try out dinking. But for now we're childishly amused that there's one place in the world where "dinking" is acceptable parlance.
But for Leah Schulting, it was a dynamite weekend.
"CMHA's over the moon with how well it turned out," she said. "It was a true collaboration between CMHA, the Penticton Pickleball Club, the City, and all our volunteers and players.
"We can't wait for next year."