Pickleball tournament says bye bye to snowbirds

March 24, 2019

BULLHEAD CITY — Lance Roberts said he discovered pickleball by accident. He’s glad he did — shoulder surgery notwithstanding.

Roberts was among the players in the weekend Bye, Bye Birdie pickleball tournament at Rotary Park, teaming with Brian Michael to capture the overall title in a competitive men’s doubles field.

Roberts and Michael outlasted John Sinclair and J.J.Jenks 15-12 in an entertaining men’s final.

“I’m glad we could put on some kind of show,” Michael said with a mock bow after he and Roberts notched the win before several dozen spectators, mostly other pickleball players who have taken a shine to the growing sport.

Pickleball is a ball-and-racket game played on a court with a net across the middle — similar to tennis. The racket is slightly larger than a ping pong paddle, the ball is a whiffle ball and the court is considerably smaller than that used for tennis.

Rules and scoring are a bit different as well, stealing concepts from volleyball as well as traditional racket sports.

Most of the play takes place within 6 feet of the net with a steady diet of off-speed volleys and an occasional overhead smash. The strategy is similar to tennis — hit to the opponent’s weakness, typically the backhand, while trying to move the opponents around the court to set up an opening.

Quick reflexes are a must, as is communication and trust between partners. Conditioning also is useful with stamina more important than strength.

The game, though, is enjoyed by players of all ages and abilities.

Roberts, a Bullhead City resident for the last four years, said he began playing pickleball about three years ago, shortly after it was introduced to the local population by the Bullhead City Parks and Recreation Division at the request of a number of residents. At that time, games were played indoors at the Suddenlink Community Center.

“I was just looking for something to do, honestly, just to get out of the house,” Roberts said. He said a friend told him to check out pickleball, so he did so despite having “no idea what it was.”

“I thought it was something like bocci ball,” he said with a chuckle. Bocci is a form of lawn bowling, another game popular with retirees and senior citizens in many parts of the country. Roberts had heard of bocci; he hadn’t heard of pickleball until he saw it in person and discovered it was nothing like bocci.

“I went to check it out and had so much fun,” he said. “I’ve been playing it ever since.”

Well, almost ever since. He did have to take some time off from the sport last year after suffering a complete tear in the rotator cuff of his right shoulder in a tournament last January.

Jenks, a transplanted Californian who has called Bullhead City home for 23 years, said he is a fan of the game and a bigger fan of its players.

“It’s a great game,” he said, calling it a “cross between racquetball, tennis and ping pong.

“It’s got elements of each but it’s its own unique sport. It’s a great way to stay active.”

The players, he said, “are a great bunch of people. There’s great camraderie.”

The weekend tournament takes its name from the fact that many snowbirds — part-time residents who spend the winter months in Bullhead City to get away from cold temperatures, snow and ice from northern locations — are getting ready to go “bye-bye,” an annual exodus that takes place around Easter before the summer heat arrives. Some of the players in the tournament were, indeed, snowbirds. Others were former snowbirds who have chosen to make Bullhead City their full-time home.

Or descendants of snowbirds, in Jenks’ case.

“My parents came out here when they retired,” he said. “We came out to look around and fell in love with it and decided to move here.”

It was snowbirds and other seniors who brought pickleball to the attenion of the local recreation department. The game itself is more than 50 years old but wasn’t on the local menu until 2014, when the city launched its fledgling program at the Suddenlink facility.

Since then, the city has built an outdoor eight-court pickleball complex at Rotary Park — with one regulation tennis court in the mix — and hopes to add more courts in the next year. The courts are getting plenty of use.

“We have a terrific pickleball community here in Bullhead City,” said Recreation Manager Dave Heath.

For the tournament, players were bracketed according to skill level — the USA Pickleball Association has guidelines to assess players’ abilities in different elements of the game. Levels range between 2.0 and 4.0 in half-point increments with 4.0 being highly skilled, consistent players and 2.0 being novices.

Roberts and Michael earned gold medals in both the overall combined skill division and the 4.0/3.5 skill level division. Other men’s gold medalists were Scott Leprich and Dean Koskela in 3.5; Brian Maki and Chet Harkonen in 3.0; and Dwayn Bolin-George Lyman in 2.5.

Women’s doubles gold was claimed by Cindy Dultz and Wanda Strosnider in overall and 4.0; Jeannette Rodgers and Fae Higgins in 3.5; Wende Steiner and Yvonne Cocks in 3.0/2.5/2.0 combined and 3.0; Cheri Brown and Diane Taxdahl in 2.0; and Margaret Sinclair and Jacque Funk in 2.5.

Gold medalists in mixed doubles on Saturday were Cindy Dultz and John Sinclair in 4.0; Yvonne Cocks and Bob Sagen in 3.5; Danita Medeiros and Julius Adams in 3.0; and Ronda Pickering and Brad Pickering in 2.5.