Spike of the Spear: Pickleball Nears Takeoff in Naples’ Inaugural U.S. Open Championships

Article Published in Naples Herald written by Tyler Mosher

The once empty wall said it all: Pickleball is here to stay inNaples.

On Wednesday morning September 9, 2015, a backdrop that was brought to the forefront of discussion was unveiled at East Naples Park, those in the crowd commemorating the host site that will bring the first-ever U.S. Open Pickleball Championships to the community in 2016. Today marked the first visible sign of what will become April 26 to May 1.

Ironically, a racquetball barricade painted the artistry of the event’s first-look logo; one that officially opens the door for prosperity.

 “We want pictures being taken here and for people to bring them back to their communities for the years to come,” the event’s President, Terri Graham said.

“We are looking for Naples to be the Flushing Meadows of Pickleball. This will allow us to make East Naples Park the Pickleball capital of the world,” Graham proclaimed as she spoke on what the weeklong showcase means to Naples and the surrounding area.

In her presentation to the spectators that listened to the President’s 8:00 a.m. introductory remarks, Graham shed light as to just how popular the brand of Pickleball has become all across the world, saying that there are 2.5 million players this year and that number is projected to grow to 5 million participants by next year.

Event Director, Jim Ludwig, confirmed why the sport has gained so much steam.

“I could teach you to play in one hour, that’s all it takes,” he shined with excitement.

“This is a very simple game, that’s the beauty of it. I’ve got a group of people, they’re all retired P.E. teachers, athletic directors, principals, and they have found that where they did teach pickleball, somewhere else in the country, they taught pickleball first, then they transitioned into badminton, and then tennis.”

That natural and comprehensible approach to the game has the two event executives declaring that the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships will be for all to enjoy, no matter the age of the viewer or the skill level of those in attendance.

pickleball unveilingpickleball unveiling

“This is something that is not only going to be for the competitive players, but we really want it to be something for this community, that they can come and experience this energy, and hopefully get turned on by the sport,” Graham said.

Ludwig added that Collier County has backed the Pickleball movement in Naples, and that support has lent a helpful hand in redesigning the tournament’s confines, which will be highlighted by 12 new courts at the expense of the local skate park.

“It [skate park] was dilapidated, falling apart, with only 10 to half a dozen kids showing up, and barely used it,” he shared. “So they were going to rebuild it and I said to them, now listen, I’ve got 100 to 150 people showing up in season every morning to play Pickleball. You know, I can get more people playing Pickleball than I can skateboarding.”

While the foregone skateboarding headquarters will be exiled, the tournament’s atmosphere will flourish because of its undoing. That was made possible by Ludwig’s persistence.

His passion is evident, too.

“One of the beauties of Pickleball is that everybody can be having a good time, we always see players laughing. People love it. They just love the sport, it’s so friendly,” Ludwig said on his first-hand experiences watching and playing the game he loves.

“It’s not filled with too much of a competitive attitude.”

The inaugural six-day event may have a different feel to it than that of recreational play, however, as some of the world’s top Pickleball talents will make their way to Naples to bring together traveled onlookers; they will be comprised of those in the know and the inexperienced all the same.

Competition and a winning mindset will be bouncing from the paddles, but so too will be a series of festivities and accommodations to heighten the fan experience.

“We will open with a kid’s day and hope to bring a couple hundred kids from around the community,” expressed President Graham. “We’ll have pro exhibition matches so the kids can learn from the best in the world, and they can also see how the game is played.”

“So that’s going to be the energy that kicked off the event,” she enlightened.

Following opening day of the tournament, Graham shared that live entertainment will be filtered into the mix. The affair will be decorated by a country-western night on Friday night and a championship celebration on Saturday night, which will pit the finalists against one another on the newly developed courts, and fans should witness a smash hit as a result.

“It will probably sell out for those matches [finals] quickly, so we encourage the community to get tickets for this early,” Graham made the public aware in closing.

The wall is clearly no longer bland, now vibrant for what Graham and Ludwig hope will be years furthermore.

US OPEN Pickleball Championships 2016

Media Day park wall 090915[CHICAGO] – Spirit Promotions, the promoters of the inaugural US OPEN
Pickleball Championships at East Naples Community Park, April 26 – May 1st,
2016 invites you to the park Wednesday, September 9th at 8am. Please come to
meet the people behind this event, and join Commissioner Fiala as we unveil the
new US Open Pickleball logo that has been skinned on the park outdoor
racquetball wall. Construction will begin soon to build 12 new state of the art
courts for the growing local Pickleball community and to help accommodate for
the anticipated 1,000 athletes who are expected to compete at the US Open.
“Collier County will host this exciting event for three years. “We are proud to be
a proud partner of the US Open Pickleball Championships,” says Parker Medley,
Sports Marketing Manager for the Naples, Marco Island Everglades Convention
& Visitors Bureau. He estimates the event will raise $500,000 in direct tourism
In addition to a Pro/Open event where the elite Pickleball players in the world will
compete for $25,000, this premier six day event will feature a unique Zing Zang
Championship Court, special Gold Box seating, a wellness fair, event parties, live
entertainment, charitable fundraising activities, plus a Kids Day.
“Pickleball is a sport for all ages,” said Chris Evon of Spirit Promotions. “It’s
appealing to seniors who want to have fun while staying healthy and active, and
it’s appealing to the youth who love the challenge that pickleball has to offer.
Spirit Promotions is a Chicago based company whose goal is to grow the
sport of pickleball, by hosting world class tournaments throughout the country.
For more information, please contact Spirit Promotions or go to our website US OPEN Pickleball Championships.

Spirit Productions (US OPEN), Wilson Sports and Pickelball For All Gives Back!

Jim Ludwig, Executive Director of Pickleball For All made a presentation to Dr. Francine Eufemia, Principal and Miss Laura Mahn, Director of Physical Education at the Avalon Elementary School on behalf of Spirit Productions (US OPEN Pickelball Championships) and Wilson Sports.  The donations were much needed basketballs, soccer balls, pickleball paddles and balls. Miss Mahn has been a huge help in getting pickleball in to the school and in Collier County (see “Teachers Loving Pickleball“).

We will continue working with Avalon and Collier County to keep the program moving forward and encourage our younger generation to live a healthier lifestyle!

Teachers Loving Pickleball!

On August 11-13, 2015, Pickleball For All’s team of volunteers put together a program to introduce pickleball to 150 of Collier County’s premier Physical Education Teachers!  The cooperation and organization of Tracy Bowen, Director of Health, Physical and Driver Education for Collier County Schools, made this wonderful experience happen!  Thanks to all the volunteers that took time out of their schedules to give back to the community!  Special thanks to Paige Mitschele, Debbie Noble and Nancy Harper for their coordination efforts to make this happen as well!



Pickleball For All Brings The Community Together

P.E. Teacher Laura Mahn Says It was her “field of dreams.”

Laura Mahn, a dedicated PE teacher at Avalon Elementary School, believes that Pickleball For All was her “field of dreams.”

Laura Mahn, a dedicated PE teacher at Avalon Elementary School, believes that Pickleball For All was her “field of dreams.”

Laura Mahn, physical education teacher at Avalon Elementary School in East Naples, gets excited about the game of pickleball, not just because she loves sports and pickleball is fun, but because it brings people together.

“I learned pickleball about 20 years ago,” says Laura.  “I have been a P.E. teacher for K-12 for 30 years.   When I relocated to Naples I rediscovered the game.  And when I heard about Pickleball For All, it was my ‘field of dreams.’”

When Jim Ludwig introduced pickleball to Avalon Elementary, a Title I school, it opened up a whole new social aspect for the kids, their parents and the teachers as well.

“The game equalizes the playing field for everyone,” she explains.  “People of all skill levels can play.  People of all cultures can play.   There is no age discrepancy; an 8-year old can play a 60-year old.  Unlike soccer, which requires eight or ten people to play, pickleball only requires two or four people.  And the game even equalizes genders: boys and girls can play each other.

Pickleball also offers an opportunity for exercise and socialization for children and adults with handicaps.

“We had a child who was born without legs who played,” says Laura.  “Collier County got him a sports wheelchair that can move sideways as well as forward and backward.   You should have seen the look in his eyes when he played.

“Imagine parents at Pelican Marsh who might have a child with downs syndrome or autism.  That child can enjoy the physical activity of pickleball and interact with other children.  It doesn’t matter how much money you have, or lack of money you have, you have a game that everybody can play.

“In our economically-challenged community in East Naples, it has given people a new outlet for their friends and family.  That’s the investment, whether it’s a park or a school.    It’s an investment in the community.”

Laura also teaches residents at Crown Pointe in East Naples, offering lessons every Saturday morning at 9 a.m.    There are ongoing games at the East Naples Community Park and players are friendly.    Don’t be afraid to ask if you can watch or even join in.    If you don’t have equipment you can rent a racquet and whiffle ball for $1 at the community center and use one of the pickleball courts free.

“The scoring pretty simple,” explains Laura.   “It’s like ping-pong.   Game is 11 points, you only score when you serve and you have to win by two points.”

“I even know a woman who plays twice a week who has had two total knee replacements.”


Click below to hear Laura Mahn talk about how pickleball brings people together.

Jan Kindl Believes that Giving Back is Her Social Responsibility

Donating to Pickleball For All Makes Her feel Like Santa Claus

Jan Kindl - Teksoft Ventures

Jan Kindl – Teksoft Ventures

Jan Kindl, Chicago resident and Naples seasonal resident, is a dynamo.    She is CEO of a multi-million dollar company, Teksoft Ventures in Chicago.   She has a busy life: she runs two homes, has a restaurant entrepreneur boyfriend, plays pickleball and still finds time to help others.

Jan started Teksoft Ventures in 2001.   The company implements software to large corporations and then trains hundreds of their employees on how to use the software.    She oversees her own twenty-five employees as well.

As a humanitarian and a professional, she feels that it’s important to give back to the community.

“Every business owner has choices: where they fund from a social responsibility.  I want mine to have a big impact,” says Jan.

She is involved in several charities in Chicago including Ronald McDonald House and Children’s Hospital.   She has compassion for helping people who need help.     She realizes that she is fortunate that she is in a financial position to give and fulfil her compassion to help others.

She realized she needed more exercise and fun

But all work and no plan…..well, you know the rest.   In 2006 Jan realized that she needed an extra-curricular activity, something to get her away from her desk and computer, something active and fun.

“In 2006 I spent the summer in Southwest Florida.   And I was bored,” she says.  “So I googled it.   I found badminton and went out and bought a racquet and went to a center in Ft. Myers to play.  While there, someone told me about pickleball and I tried it.   I never picked up the badminton racquet again.  Pickleball is more social, requires less running to get at an adequate skill level and takes less time than golf.    You’re standing by the net and when you get hit there’s no impact – so it’s not as fearful as tennis.”

She found her thing in pickleball and is now a high-rated player, playing as often as she can.

She decided to help the AMI Big Cypress Kids

When Jan learned about AMI Big Cypress Kids, an educational and vocational school for children convicted of non-violent crimes, she had to reach out to them.   She donated money for a basketball court to give them something physical to do with all their energy.

“I wanted to see them get off the couch and get away from television and video games, to do something fun and constructive,” says Jan.   “The center is out in the middle of the Everglades so there’s not a lot they can do out there.  Plus another concern of mine is childhood obesity, so they go hand in hand.”

Then she learned about Pickleball For All

Jan Kindl with Jim Ludwig

Jan Kindl with Jim Ludwig

When she learned about Jim Ludwig’s Pickleball For All project at Avalon Elemementary School in East Naples, she offered a donation to help pay for the equipment and asked Jim if he could reach out to AMI Kids.   She asked Jim if they could also use their basketball court for pickleball.  Of course he said ‘yes and yes.’

“I wanted the residents at AMI Big Cypress Kids to have more use of the basketball court,” says Jan.   “They fell in love with pickleball.   They can plan basketball AND pickleball on their court, so it’s a multi-use court now.”

“Her donation allowed me to be able to purchase new paddles and wiffleballs and leave them behind when we introduce the sport to schools and groups,” says Jim Ludwig.  “Previously we had been using donated, old paddles, sometimes wooden ones with broken handles.  I didn’t want to take those to the kids,” says Jim.

“It has worked out extremely well.   I hear the kids at AMI Big Cypress are still very enthusiastic about pickleball.  When I see that basketball court out in the middle of the Everglades…it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

“When you help others, you feel like Santa Claus,” says Jan.  “It’s a great feeling.”

Watch her video below

Everyone’s talking about pickleball

fiala blog

Commissioner Donna Fiala cuts the cake during the Pickleball Picklenic at East Naples Community Park.

Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala wrote about pickleball in a recent column in the Collier Citizen

It seems that everyone is talking about pickleball. What is this popular sport, I kept asking myself, so I decided to go over to see what was so fascinating.

I was wondering, what does a pickle ball even look like? Is it green? Does it have warts? What would they use to hit it around?

What I found was fun, fun and more fun. And while I’m at it, it’s great exercise and great fellowship.

First of all, the ball is something like a whiffle ball with either little holes for indoors or larger holes for outdoors, or what they use at East Naples Community Park — both kinds of holes in each ball.

The paddle is hard plastic over a web. It’s played on a shortened tennis court. At East Naples Community Park, they have divisions of players on different courts: beginners, more experienced players, very experienced players and almost professionals. And these people are serious players.

They play 5 days a week from 9 a.m. to noon, and the public is encouraged to come and watch.

Along with these games, the players in this club, Southern Tropics, reach out to the children at Avalon Elementary School to involve them in learning to play. The children love the game, so the team is working on fundraising through their nonprofit, “Pickleball for all,” to buy the students the balls and rackets needed for their size, so that the school can involve them in playing the game.

The Southern Tropics also reached out to a local AMIkids group, who started out ridiculing them about it appearing to be a sissy game, but then slowly came out of their barracks to try their hand, and before a couple hours had passed, everyone was outside and enjoying a spirited, happy game. The AMIkids employees stated they hadn’t seen such enthusiasm in these kids in a long time and asked how much the equipment cost. Instead of just saying goodbye, the Southern Comfort Club said they would leave their balls, rackets and nets there for the youth.

Why not stop by and watch them play at the East Naples Community Park? You’ll love it. And while I’m telling you about them, they are truly excited to have scored the largest pickleball tournament in history right here in Collier County.

As the club prepares for the huge U.S. Open Tournament in April 2016, I will suggest to Collier County’s Parks and Recreation Department to build another court or two to hold the crowds and the players coming from all over the U.S., and hopefully they will have a roof over the courts for the summer players as well as rain protection.

The group is also going to host a USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) sanctioned tournament in February 2016 at East Naples Community Park.

They have also included a junior division to get the younger generation involved. This is a great opportunity to get a feel for the park under tournament conditions. Volunteers and sponsors will be needed for both events.