Record entrants ready for ‘Pickleball Capital of Ohio’ in Middletown this weekend

Molly Wray returns a volley as she plays pickleball earlier this year on the Middletown Pickleball Association courts at Lefferson Park. The association is hosting a tournament this weekend. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

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Molly Wray returns a volley as she plays pickleball earlier this year on the Middletown Pickleball Association courts at Lefferson Park. The association is hosting a tournament this weekend. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Hundreds of players from 11 states to descend on Middletown’s Lefferson Park.

Middletown proclaims itself the “Pickleball Capital of Ohio.”

This weekend the city will earn that title as 380 pickleball players from 11 states will play in the 14th annual Middletown Pickleball Tournament at Lefferson Park. The 18 courts are the most in Ohio, said Michell Cook, tournament director.

The field is the largest in the tournament’s history and visitors are expected to pump about $150,000 into the local economy, said Mary Huttlinger, executive director of the Middletown Visitors Bureau.

She said tournament organizers aggressively pass out visitor guides, coupon books and encourage players to patronize local businesses and attractions.

When Huttlinger looks at the “bigger picture” she sees the hard work from the volunteers turning Middletown into “a premier pickleball destination.”

Cook said several food trucks, vendors and a beer garden will be located on site during the tournament. Admission is free to spectators.

When Cook became tournament director in 2013, there were 112 players in the field and she was “nervous.” The tournament has grown every year and now boosts the largest field in the state. She’s no longer nervous.

“It’s kinda like if you can swim in 10 foot of water you can swim in 100 foot of water,” Cook said. “That’s my logic. Sixty people or 600. It’s the same thing. You just buy more bananas.”

Cook said the volunteers treat the players “like true guests” by providing “a fun atmosphere” that includes music, ice cream trucks, eating areas and plenty of green space.

“We treat them like family, family that you like,” she said with a laugh. “The little things make a difference.”

The tournament started with singles matches on Thursday and continues through Saturday. More than 200 players will be on the court today as men’s and women’s doubles are held. Then on Saturday, mixed doubles will be played.

The players, mostly 50 and older, are rated between 3.0 and 5.0, from beginners to a step below professional.

The pickleball courts are converted tennis courts that were in dilapidated condition, Cook said. She said local pickleball players have donated their time and money over the years building and maintaining the courts.

On Wednesday morning, most of the 18 courts were being used by male and female players from a wide range of ages. Cook, who lives near Lefferson Park, remembers seeing the courts and thinking the sport was for “old people.”

Then she was introduced. She’s hooked.

“It grows weekly,” she said of the sport. “It’s finally getting the recognition it deserves. I thought it was for old people, like shuffleboard. But it’s for all ages. Most of these people are retired and this provides a great opportunity to socialize.”


HOW TO GO

WHAT: 14th annual Middletown Pickleball Tournament

WHEN: 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday for men’s and women’s doubles; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday for mixed doubles.

WHERE: Lefferson Park, 2145 S Breiel Blvd., Middletown

HOW MUCH: Free

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