Vermont’s winters are notoriously bitter, but its pickleball players are cocking a snook at the freezing temperatures, and Christopher Vatis perfectly personifies this.
During the height of Vermont’s quarantine measures in March 2021, Vatis found that although he was enjoying the hikes with his wife, Emily, he was also craving something to make him feel a part of the community.
Reflecting on this period, he says, “Everyone was feeling some cabin fever.”
Vatis stumbled upon pickleball through a friend’s recommendation. However, with his background in tennis, squash, and racquetball, he found an instant kinship with the sport.
A New Journey
Joining the beginners’ class at Charlotte Town Beach on chilly Saturday mornings, Vatis and his wife, masked and gloved, embarked on a new journey, finding solace in the game and the outdoor setting.
“It felt very strange to be doing something we hadn’t done before with people we hadn’t met before,” he recalled, “but we took to it. We liked the people, the game, and the license to be outside.”
As their passion for pickleball grew, Vatis and his wife became regulars at evening groups, and soon, he took on the role of organizer, expanding the playing opportunities beyond the scheduled sessions and creating greater engagement among players through regular communication and innovative initiatives.
The change from summer to fall presented logistical challenges, but Vatis improvised, setting up portable nets and maintaining the group interest with daily emails filled with humor, puzzles, and poetry.
In the winter, players showed up to clear the snow, and Vatis even put his snowblower on a trailer and brought it to the courts at the beach on occasion.
The Polar Picklers
The hardcore group that formed over the winter started calling themselves the Polar Picklers and had T-shirts and sweatshirts showing a polar bear with a pickleball paddle.
“It became more of a social thing,” says Vatis. “On Saturdays, we have après pickle with a little potluck, and sometimes people who didn’t play on that day come over to be with friends.”
Vatis is delighted that his pickleball community shares his enthusiasm for the game that brought them together:
“At one point, I thought I could drop the emails because it became kind of burdensome to say something witty and clever that elicited engagement,” he said, “but people really seemed to like it.”
Amazingly, Vatis sends out his messages between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m., as many of the group are early risers and 3½ years on, and the only occasions he doesn’t send the email is when he’s on vacation.
He notes that the average age of the players stands at 70, with the eldest member on the brink of celebrating their 81st birthday. Such is the popularity of the Polar Picklers that they’ve reached capacity and are currently unable to accommodate new members.
Despite the onset of cold weather, the Polar Picklers remain undeterred. In fact, according to Vatis, they’re becoming even hardier:
“As the zeal for playing and the need for camaraderie grew, the threshold for when it was too cold dropped,” he said. “It’s now 10 degrees!”
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