By JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to the Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE — The annual Tommy Cole Pickleball Tournament took place at the YMCA in Stephenville on Saturday, Dec. 4.
Pickleball, a sport invented in the mid-1960's that integrates elements from badminton, table tennis, and tennis, has been growing rapidly in popularity over the last five years and is now considered the fastest growing sport in Canada. The game is played on a court the size of a badminton court with a net the height of a tennis net, racquets a little bigger than those used in table tennis, and a wiffle ball.
Darrell Chipp, one of the founding members of the pickleball group in the Bay St. George area, believes that the sport offers something for everyone.
“It’s one of those sports that bridges the gap and I feel any age can play,” said Chipp. “It’s one of those sports where the skill level is very narrow. You can have someone who is extremely athletic and someone who isn’t athletic at all come in and play and still have fun, whereas if you play badminton or table tennis there is such a major difference that you can’t really have the same amount of fun.”
Chipp said a friend of his, while in Philadelphia, saw numerous courts set up with hundreds of people playing, and upon returning to Stephenville shared that information with Chipp. Along with Tommy Cole, the two did some research into the sport and thought it would be a great addition to Stephenville. The YMCA ordered the nets and thus formed the origins of the Tommy Cole Pickleball Tournament.
“Tommy was one of these guys who was there at the gym every single day, so Tommy introduced a lot of people, him and myself, to the sport and that’s why we gave Tommy a nice bit of credit for the sport here in town,” explained Chipp.
The tournament, which went from about 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., had 20 participants and four divisions of competition: Men’s Doubles – 3.5 and below skill level, Men’s Doubles - 3.5 and above skill level, Women’s Doubles, and Mixed Doubles.
The winners for Men’s Doubles 3.5 and above were Darrell Chipp and Troy Duffy. The winners of the Men’s Doubles 3.5 and below were Jamie French and Derek Johnson. In Women’s Doubles, Mary-Lou Russell-Chipp and Melanie House took top pot, and in Mixed Doubles the champions were Mary-Lou Russell-Chipp and Darrell Chipp.
Chipp said the tournament was a huge success that all participants seemed to enjoy. He also offered considerable praise and thanks to Justin House, who was instrumental in organizing the event.
Chipp said there were a few factors, including COVID, that has affected the growth of pickleball in the community. However the uptake in the region has been increasing steadily.
“We were the first on the island to introduce it. St. John’s was the second. We started out with probably 10 people playing consistently, and now we have anywhere between 35 and 60 people,” shared Chipp. “Since COVID has calmed down a little bit, the Y has just given us a Thursday night, from 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. Before that, they’d given us an 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. slot and we hadn’t been able to get evening slots, so we could only get people involved who weren’t working or had a long dinner break.”
Chipp said that now that they are able to offer an evening slot, new people have been coming out to participate who hadn’t gotten the chance to before, which he believes will boost the sport's profile and popularity in the region. The Thursday evening time slot also includes training opportunity for people who are new to the sport.
Chipp said the plan is to really expand on the events they can organize throughout the region.
“We are actually in the process of registering our Bay St. George Pickleball group, so we are going to become an official group so we can host provincial and national tournaments hopefully in the future,” shared Chipp.
Mary-Lou Russell-Chipp, who is also a member of the Bay St. George Pickleball group, said that recreation in the community is extremely important.
“We know how much our physical health impacts our mental health,” said Russell-Chipp. “Recreation offers positive effects on both physical and mental health, and gives us the ability to socialize within COVID restrictions.”
Chipp said the group has been extremely fortunate with the assistance it has received within the community from both the Bay St. George YMCA and the Town of Stephenville.
“The support from the Town has been absolutely amazing. I can’t say enough,” said Chipp. “They just agreed to buy us new nets because the ones we currently have are in pretty rough shape, so we are going to have official Pickleball nets ordered. They’ve been supplying us with the balls for the sport, and in every avenue that we could imagine they’ve been really supportive. They also just set up two pickleball courts outside on the tennis courts, and we’re hoping to start using them next year.”