Less than ideal August weather did not hold competitors back from the annual Red Deer Pickleball Open.
With the new courts open and ready for action, close to 400 players packed the courts Friday for one of the largest pickleball tournaments in Alberta.
There were blankets, winter attire and overcast skies but it did not dampen the spirits of the athletes, who young and old flocked to Red Deer this year for the event. Players from as far south as Arizona and as east as Quebec are attending this week.
“It’s a good feeling. We’ve accomplished a lot. These courts are the nicest in Canada we’re pretty pleased to see all these people here,” said Red Deer Pickleball Club (RDPC) past president Val Vollmin, who was one of the driving forces behind the new courts.
The tournament, now its fourth year had modest beginnings in Red Deer. It started with just over 100 competitors and has grown into the big success it is today along with the new courts on the northeast corner of town.
That’s in part due to a very strong local volunteer base, as well as the willingness for players to return year after year.
Shawn Radford, 46, is one of those players. He originally attended the tournament three years ago with his son and has since become one of the top players in Canada. Radford won gold in the level 5 competition Friday over Cam Rich.
The Cochrane native said that the Red Deer tournament is circled on the family calendar as a must-attend event and he’s happy to have them come along.
“Third-year coming. My boy is here with me. This was his very first tournament. He was 11-years-old… he’s now in the gold medal match at (level) 2.5,” Radford said.
“For us, this is just a highlight of our year. With the new courts, this has become the premier place in Canada. Just absolutely gorgeous.”
Radford isn’t alone in expressing the intersection of pickleball and family. Vollmin noted that most of the athletes who come out are simply there for the camaraderie and friendship.
“Everybody loves pickleball. Pickleball players will travel a long way to play in a tournament obviously,” she said.
“It’s just a lot of fun. Kinda like a big family– it’s a family reunion. You see people haven’t seen for a while. That’s the draw. It’s the social aspect.”
On top of the social draw, the physical wellness aspect of pickleball appeals to people of all ages and abilities. From level 1 to 5, athletes can compete against those who are of an equal skill level and usually similar age.
“I’ve been playing for about two and a half years. I did it because I was getting older and I was gaining weight and I wanted to find something healthy and fun and I’m not a guy who will go out and just run. I want to chase something,” said Radford, who won gold at the U.S. Nationals in doubles play last year.
“I just started to do it to lose weight, then I got competitive after going down to the U.S. a couple of years ago. Watching some professionals play, I caught the bug. Now I compete and travel myself. Went down to U.S. Nationals last year.”
From the young to the old, you did not have to go far to find a smile around the courts Friday. That’s why the RDPC has its sights set on getting bigger and better in 2020.
“It is pretty awesome,” added Vollmin.
“We’re going to try for two of these next year and we’d like a really big one, bringing up a lot of the pros from the U.S. in July. But this is pretty impressive.”
Even if bigger and better is the goal, according to Radford, the new courts and tournament have already caught the attention of players south of the border.
“Red Deer has really put themselves on the map,” he said.
“Not only in Canada but people in the States when I travel down there, they know all about this place now.”
The tournament continues throughout the weekend, with draws on both Saturday and Sunday. For more information on game times, head to www.pickleballtournaments.com/tournamentinfo.pl?tid=2777#menuSchedule.