A buzz of excitement ran around the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center as the inaugural NOLA Pickleball Festival kicked off on Thursday.
Leading the charge for this new event is none other than former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
“Pickleball is a sport for everyone,” Brees remarked enthusiastically to Nola.com. “It’s one of those rare games where both men and women compete together in a highly competitive environment, promoting equality.”
While Brees displayed genuine enthusiasm for the sport, he couldn’t help but express his curiosity about the peculiar name “pickleball.” He mentioned that the name has its origins in the 1960s and has persisted since then without a clear explanation.
McEnroe Vs. Brees
The culmination of the Pickle Fest is scheduled for today at 10 a.m., featuring a match between Drew Brees and tennis legend John McEnroe. Renowned for his intense competitiveness and on-court outbursts, McEnroe will face off against Brees in a court located in the heart of the convention center’s Hall C.
The court will be enclosed by vibrant Carnival parade floats that add a distinct New Orleans touch to the event.
Looking ahead to the match, Brees assessed that McEnroe might hold an advantage due to his exceptional hand-eye coordination, ball-tracking skills, and keen sense of ball placement.
Brees acknowledged, “I have my work cut out for me.”
Finesse And Strategy More Than Speed And Strength
Despite this, the former NFL superstar expressed his belief that he might have an edge in court mobility, perhaps influenced by the age difference between him and McEnroe. At 44, Brees is two decades younger than the tennis icon.
However, as players noted, pickleball transcends age boundaries. On the festival’s opening day, courts were frequented by individuals of varying ages, each demonstrating finesse and strategic prowess rather than relying solely on speed and strength.
A participant named Jay Able, a 57-year-old lawyer from Slidell, shared his experience transitioning from tennis to pickleball as a means of regaining fitness. He praised the game’s rapid learning curve, where basic serving and volleying skills could be grasped within 15 minutes.
According to Jay, the challenge lies in building endurance, as he progressed from struggling to play for an hour to now reigning himself in after three hours of play.
Drew Brees has created a large ‘pickleball festival’ in New Orleans to benefit his foundation https://t.co/1Rw58EwPGu— NOLA.com (@NOLAnews) May 17, 2023
Bart Loftis from Gulfport, Mississippi, at the age of 80, showcased impressive court movement. He emphasized that mastering subtle techniques, particularly executing soft shots, can level the playing field against younger, more energetic opponents. Athletic players known as “bangers” can be confounded by consistent low-impact returns, Loftis pointed out.
McEnroe’s “Vibrant Personality”
While Brees is currently immersed in the world of pickleball – he revealed his co-ownership of a championship pro team – the approaching Saints preseason game on Sunday inevitably brought football to mind. Seeing the Times-Picayune in a reporter’s hand, Brees took a moment to glance at the faces of the new Saints quarterback Derek Carr and the steadfast Taysom Hill on the front page.
The reporter aimed to engage Brees in a discussion about Carr’s mindset as the city’s colossal expectations rested on his shoulders, possibly inquiring if Brees missed being in the spotlight himself.
However, Brees steered the conversation back to pickleball. He noted that the focus for the day was on the sport, and the only competitive subject up for debate was his upcoming match against McEnroe. Brees humorously remarked that McEnroe certainly possessed a “vibrant personality.”
The Brees Dream Foundation
As the hollow pickleballs resounded with crisp impacts against paddles, Brees discreetly departed through a nearby side door.
The NOLA Pickle Fest, presented by b1BANK, is set to continue until Sunday. Proceeds from the event will contribute to the Brees Dream Foundation. For further details or to register for participation, interested individuals can visit drewbrees.com.
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