Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Pickleball, the paddle game that began on Bainbridge Island in 1965 to keep kids occupied on a rainy day, will now have a national tournament in Naples, Florida April 26-May 1, "The U.S. Open Pickleball Championship."
Jim Ludwig, US Open Event Director and USAPA Ambassador, joined Spirit Promotions founders Chris Evon and Terri Graham, the organizers of the US Open Pickleball Championship, to give a pre-site tour of East Naples Community Park. (see map below)
Jim Ludwig: This is the US Open Pickleball Championship wall that will be the focal point for thousands of visitors coming here for our event to have their opportunity to take photos.
Jack Olmsted, Videoblogging 206: How did you guys meet?
Chris Evon: By accident! Terri (Graham) and I had come down to this area looking at different venues and we were presenting our presentation, our vision, to Collier County and somebody hooked us up with Jim and the three of us got together and realized that our vision for one large pickleball event was very similar and we have not looked back since.
Jim: I became a pickleball player about five years ago. I enjoyed the sport so much that I stopped playing tennis and golf and became an ambassador about three and a half years ago with the USAPA. And eventually became a district ambassador to promote the sport because I found a great love for the sport and also was able to get other people involved that had never been exercising before or out playing a sport or a racket sport in particular.
Chris: We met in January 2015. We came down here to give the presentation and like I said, hooked up with Jim, we talked about our vision together. He was involved in the meetings with the CVB, the Collier County Convention and Visitors Bureau and since then we've just been partners in this whole thing.
Spirit Promotions was designed as a business to kind of house the US Open. So, when we came up with the idea to have a US Open, we started Spirit Promotions which is our company to just promote this event and probably other events throughout the years.
Terri and I both come from a long history of sporting goods events and the sporting goods industry. We were both with Wilson Sports Goods. Terri was there for 21 years. I was there for 17 years. We were in the indoor racket sports division which really ended up being all the racket sports except for tennis.
So, we were involved with racquetball, mainly, that was our main sport but we also did squash, paddle, badminton and pickleball.
Jim: The DecoTurf surface is state-of-the -art. It is the same surface that they use at the US Open Tennis Championships in Flushing Meadows, New York. We are putting it on all of our new courts we are doing. The only courts that will not have it will be the ninth courts existing.
It is a cushioned surface about five millimeters thick. You don't notice a difference with the play. But, you do notice a difference after you are playing - your muscles and bones don't ache.
We are headed over towards the first expo tent. You see that white car pulling out now. In this parking lot, there will be one complete tent. It will be 150 feet long - you can see Terry there - by 60 feet wide. It will fill this complete parking lot. This is where the check in center will be.
We will also have a beer garden, an entertainment lounge, VIP lounge, food will be served in here and also we will have a few other vendors.
Now, we will walk over to tent number two which is the vendors tent. In this area, we will have another tent that is a 150 feet long by 60 feet wide. Where you see that stone there it will be all vendors in there.
Jack: Do you know how many vendors will be in the tent?
Jim: 20 vendors
Jack: Hi Terri. How is your day going?
Terri Graham: Busy. It is going awesome.
Jack: What is on your to-do-list today?
Terri: You don't have enough time.
Jim: The battery is running out.
Terri: Well, we have found some food for Saturday. I met with a vendor. We have just been real busy.
Chris: Seating will happen today.
Terri: Seating yeah. It's crazy busy.
Jack: Terri, How long have you been working on this tournament?
Terri: A little over a year. But the last 6 months its been 24/7. The CVB, Collier County Visitors Bureau, is a huge supporter of ours. Hence, you look around here and see what's going on with this park. They have been a big supporter. Commissioner Fiala has been very supportive as well.
Really the whole community has been behind this project since day one.
I would say besides the volunteers these two people here are the backbone of this event. You know Jim is a full-time Naples resident and pretty much, as I have always referred to him as, the “Mayor Of Pickleball” in Naples and has done an amazing job in this area building the pickleball community.
And obviously Chris is my right hand person putting this whole thing together. This is more than a three-person event, as we found out.
Jim: I've been working with the children here in Collier County for about a year and a half now through "Pickleball For All." One of our first partners in the pickleball world was Avalon school which is attached to the property that we are standing in. They are going to bring out eighty five of their children, 85 -100 of their children, that we taught pickleball to last year and this year and have them out for "Kids Day".
We're going to have them out on the championship court to see some pro exhibition. When we're done with the pro exhibition, we're going to take them over and have them all on the courts and get them with the pros playing with the pros. From there, we will take them over, feed them lunch, give them a little sugar popcorn to bring back to school to get them wired for the afternoon and we're all looking forward to this and they are very, very excited about it.
Jack: A couple of years ago you had a dream about this. Is this what you expected?
Terri: I will let you know in 3 weeks.
Jack: OK. That's a deal. We will connect with you after the big tournament.
Terri: Alright, that sounds great.
Jack: Thanks so much. I really appreciate your time today Terry, Chris and Jim. Have a great tournament.