Major League Pickleball (MLP) kicked off its 2023 season with a bang at MLP Mesa. The tournament was filled with high energy competitive pickleball play from all of the league’s 24 Premier and Challenger level teams.
However, there was one moment during a game between the New Jersey 5’s and the St. Louis Shock that’s led to some heated debate in the world of sports.
During the group stage of MLP Mesa, the New Jersey 5’s went up against MLP newcomers the St. Louis Shock. The matchup was incredibly close through all 5 games in the series, with the 5’s finally defeating the Shock in the Dreambreaker, 21-17.
During game 2 of the mixed doubles round, referees called a game hindrance call on 5’s player James Ignatowich for an “aggressive split step”.
Definitely a real sport pic.twitter.com/51zvGEI2nN— kang (@jaycaspiankang) January 29, 2023
When reviewing the replay from the match, you can see Ignatowich rush to the kitchen line after his teammate Lea Jansen’s third shot drop and position himself at the line with a split step.
This is a move that many pro pickleball players utilize to set their feet square with their shoulders, parallel with the net, which allows them more mobility on the court.
Despite this being a pretty standard foot movement, the referee must have heard Ignatowich’s feet hit the ground and determined that the noise made from this action to be too distracting to the opposing team and thus called it a hindrance.
Hindrance calls, otherwise known as distraction calls, are mostly seen when players are shouting during an opponent’s swing or making some visual display that distracts them from the game.
“3.A.6. Distraction – Physical actions by a player that are ‘not common to the game’ that, in the judgment of the referee, may interfere with the opponent’s ability or concentration to hit the ball. Examples include, but are not limited to, making loud noises, stomping feet, waving the paddle in a distracting manner or otherwise interfering with the opponent’s concentration or ability to hit the ball.”USA Pickleball Official Rulebook 2023
But the question remains: Was Ignatowich’s split step really loud or obstructive of the game’s flow? Did it merit a distraction call and thus merit a replay? This has many pickleball fans and detractors heated all over social media.
Pickleball fans seem to agree that the call is pretty egregious, and there needs to be change in referee competence in the MLP moving forward.
Pro players should be able to move aggressively on the court, as the game is fast-paced when played at a higher level. It’s evident that Ignatowich was making a heads-up play to get to the kitchen line; his intention doesn’t appear to be set on distracting his opponents from the game itself.
Ignatowich’s ability to move through the incident with grace is one of the many reasons he won the ProXR Pickleball Sportsmanship Award for MLP Mesa.
Ignatowich and Jansen were able to move forward after the call and win the match, allowing New Jersey 5’s the opportunity to beat the Shock in the Dreambreaker. Advancing into the finals bracket, the 5’s lost a well-fought, 5-match-long battle against the New York Hustlers in a close 19-21 Dreambreaker.
And since the entire sequence of events was ridiculous, our social media team had to parody it. Watch our version below;
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