The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (UW-Whitewater) has joined the pickleball bandwagon and held a pickleball club tournament in the Williams Center Kachel Fieldhouse over the weekend.
You may have heard of the university as it was the alma mater of Zane Navratil, one of the sport’s top players.
An Engaging Environment
Whitewater has been busy creating an engaging environment for its students to play pickleball in for a while now. Practices have attracted over 100 members, and the recent tournament had 88 participants, a slight dip from prior two-day events that saw well over 100 players participating.
Ben Rasey, the club president and co-founder three years ago, has witnessed its growth: “It’s a good opportunity to be in a social environment.
For example, we’re doing an end-of-the-year banquet, bringing in everyone’s parents and players together just to shout out accomplishments and stuff,” he said.
A Significant Role
Pickleball at Whitewater Wisconsin transcends socializing, as competition tends to play a significant role, with approximately 25% of members engaging in competitive play.
Indeed, a team of 12 players, including Colton Thielman from a tennis background, will represent the club at the national championship in Atlanta.
Thielman noted the similarity in strokes between doubles in tennis and pickleball, with the main distinction being that pickleball requires a more delicate touch. However, he also says, “If you’re a good doubles player, doubles and pickleball just kind of go hand in hand,”
The club’s growth is partly due to support from Whitewater’s head tennis coach, Frank Barnes. He was responsible for the pickleball court line added to the tennis courts, the acquisition of nets, and a pickleball camp that runs alongside the Warhawk tennis camp in summers.
Fundraising events, like Sunday’s tournament, contribute to acquiring equipment and funding their national trip, open to both campus members and the community.
Rasey explained the inclusive tournament strategy: “For tournaments, we open it to everybody because that’s how we get the fundraising dollars; we actually give students a discount to encourage them to play in these tournaments and give them competitive opportunities.”
The tournament features various skill levels, including mixed doubles and a men’s division. Winners receive cash prizes, while other top finishers earn special items.
The club’s growth mirrors pickleball’s nationwide popularity mirrors, and Thielman has his take on just why that is: “It’s definitely a lot of fun,” he said. “Going to play kind of just got me hooked right away. That’s what everyone says: you play once, and then you’re hooked.”
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