ST. GEORGE — Anyone who thinks pickleball is a sports fad that will fade like Frolf and soccer snoods (Google it), should have been at Little Valley Park this week.
More than 350 pickleball enthusiasts from around the United States and Canada participated in the Fall Brawl, a St. George City-sponsored tournament that lasted three days and crowned 25 gold medal doubles teams.
“This is the biggest tournament we do all year,” said event director Wayne Bullock. “We have people from all over the country, including some of the best players out there. I’ve been planning this tournament for 10 months.”
Friday night the top doubles players squared off in a crowd-pleasing event that brought hundreds of spectators. At the top, the men’s doubles team of Kyle Yates and Darin Hurdman played to a packed house and won the 18-plus 5.0 gold medal. The duo defeated Tyler Sheffield and Larry Moon 11-7, 11-7 (matches are best two out of three games to 11, win by two).
Also on Friday night, the top women’s players battled it out, with Christine Barksdale and Joy Leising teaming up to win the gold medal. The pair defeated Yvonne Hackenburg and Hilary Marold 11-6, 11-1 in the gold medal match of the women’s 18-plus 5.0 category.
“It was a great crowd and a great night,” Bullock said. “Pickleball is really gaining popularity all over the country. I don’t think it has caught on internationally yet, except in Canada. But it will. Pickleball is huge in Florida.”
There were 26 states represented at the event, which serves as a warm-up for the older players who are participating in next week’s Huntsman World Senior Games pickleball event. Players came from as far away as Alaska and Hawaii, plus Canada and several Eastern states, including New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
“It was love at first play for me,” said Marsha Freso from Wimauma, Florida. “We moved to Florida from Atlanta and the place we moved into had a pickleball complex. We tried it and I absolutely loved it.”
Freso, who was teaming up with her husband Byron in the mixed doubles competition, said pickleball is fantastic because she can play it as she ages and it actually compliments her tennis game.
“It’s the perfect sport for me,” she said.
More than 75 volunteers helped out during the three-day event.
The Senior Games pickleball event begins Monday with men’s and women’s doubles and continues through Friday, when the men’s singles event will wrap up the 2014 Games.
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