The Crown of the Continent Pickleball Tournament, a highlight of the U.S. Senior Pickleball Circuit, unfolded over the weekend. Hosted by Bigfork’s Two Rivers Pickleball Club for the third consecutive year, the event attracted a whopping 250 players.
Pickleball Boom: From Local Club to National Destination
Keith Ori, co-manager of the Two Rivers Pickleball Club and co-owner of the Jewel Basin Center, proudly stated, “We’ve really become a destination tournament for players around the country.”
The remarkable growth and allure of the tournament and facility are responsible for its glowing reputation.
Bigfork sits on the Flatbed Lake and is about 140 miles northeast of the state capital, Helena.
Rapid Rise of Pickleball in the Flathead Valley
Just over two years ago, the Two Rivers Pickleball Club emerged in conjunction with the opening of the Jewel Basin Center. The club’s exponential expansion mirrors the nationwide trend for pickleball.
Ori elaborates, “Our growth has just gone off the charts. It’s really beginning to develop with the younger generation, and that’s just driving more and more folks to the courts.”
Cultivating a Thriving Community
While the sport has found a strong foothold among seniors, it’s now capturing the enthusiasm of the younger generation. Ori introduced a 49-and-under division in the Crown of the Continent tournament, reflecting this trend.
The appeal of pickleball’s simplicity, social nature, and community spirit is evident as players like Jennifer Cozad transition from newcomers to avid competitors.
Cozad, hailing from Creston, exemplifies the transformative journey pickleball can offer. Having initially joined a free clinic, she has now evolved into a dedicated contender, and she and her husband participated in the Crown of the Continent tournament for the second consecutive year.
“I was really just curious about the building when it was under construction, and then decided to try the free clinic,” she recounted. Her curiosity soon turned into a passion, with both her and her husband becoming immersed in the sport.
Despite feeling somewhat out of her comfort zone during her first tournament last year, Cozad’s perseverance has paid off, leading to remarkable progress in just a few months. She attests to the simplicity of picking up the game and emphasizes the importance of practice for personal growth.
Cozad also underscores the strong sense of community that pickleball fosters. She describes the game as “super social,” making it easy to forge connections and form new playing partnerships.
Pickleball’s Path Forward: Growth and Inclusion
As pickleball’s popularity skyrockets, Ori envisions the future: “We’re already talking about future growth, and we’re only two years old. It’s growing, and it’s not going away.” The summer witnessed the addition of pickleball courts across the Flathead Valley, both public and private, with further expansions planned.
Pickleball’s Future Beckons for Kalispell
While the sport thrives in many parts of the valley, the city of Kalispell has yet to create dedicated outdoor pickleball courts.
Ori emphasizes the need for cities to recognize and accommodate the burgeoning interest in pickleball, urging, “This is the fastest growing sport in the United States, and I think the city needs to recognize that and get on board.”
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