An up-and-coming sport will take centre court later this month in Antigonish.
The Pickleball Antigonish Society and Arisaig Pickleball are co-hosting the Pickleball Nova Scotia Championships, from May 24 to 26, on the St. F.X. campus.
“We want to show what we can do here,” Mike Hinchey, tournament co-chair, said of staging the provincial competition, noting Antigonish’s reputation as a strong host for such events.
During an April 30 conversation, he confirmed more than 180 players had registered.
“It is going to be quite an event,” Hinchey said.
There will be action on 14 courts at St. F.X., including in the Keating Centre, Oland Centre and Auxiliary Gym.
“It’s going to be huge,” Hinchey said, including the volunteer effort, with more than 60 people pitching in.
On the opener (Friday, May 24) of the three-day event, players will have the opportunity to participate in clinics, along with ‘teach the teachers’ sessions.
That evening, from 6 to 8 p.m., there will be a ‘play with a pro’ charity event, which will feature professionals Jennifer Lucore, Brooke Silver and Mike Cooper.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital Foundation.
“We are really excited about it,” Hinchey said, noting it has drawn a lot of interest from players.
Lucore, a highly-decorated champion will serve as honorary chairperson for the tournament.
Along with her many gold medal performances, she recently co-wrote – The History of Pickleball – More than 50 years of fun – with her mother.
On Thursday evening (May 23), she will make a public presentation about her book.
Saturday (May 25), there will be youth, men’s and doubles’ play, while mixed doubles and singles will be featured Sunday (May 26).
The matches, which will take place from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., are open to the public.
“We want as many people as possible to come out and watch,” Hinchey said.
There is also talk of Antigonish hosting the national tournament in 2021.
“We will see how provincials go first,” Hinchey said, with a laugh.
‘Leaps and bounds’
‘What the heck is pickleball?’
That’s the common question – one Hinchey also asked – when someone mentioned the paddle sport, described as a mix of badminton, tennis and table tennis – while having coffee with friends.
“It is growing by leaps and bounds,” he said of the sport’s popularity.
Hinchey noted five or so people playing less than two years ago has evolved into the Pickleball Antigonish Society.
“With increased interest, it has really turned into something,” he said, noting there are more than 200 players in Antigonish County.
Hinchey added there are clubs in communities such as Arisaig, Heatherton and St. Andrews.
“It is really taking off,” he noted.
As for his society, Hinchey said there are 50 to 75 members, who play four or five times per week.
He noted passersby often take a peek at what is happening, which usually draws an invitation from him and other members to join the fun.
“Once someone tries it, they often come back,” Hinchey said.
The local clubs also come together for tournament play every couple months.
“As soon as we open registration, spots fill up really quickly,” Hinchey said.
Players range in age from 12 to 83.
He noted one of the recent Antigonish-based tournaments drew players from as far away as Inverness and Truro.
Hinchey and other players have also led clinics across the region, including four through the Antigonish town and county recreation departments.
The seeds for pickleball – commonly called ‘little tennis’ – were planted in the 1960s in the southern United States.
“It is the fastest growing sport in North America,” Hinchey said, noting four to five million people are now playing.
The sport has criss-crossed North America, with its move to eastern Canada happening over the past decade or so.
Hinchey explained pickleball is played on a surface that is one-third the size of a tennis court.
A smaller-sized graphite racket is used to strike a whiffle ball.
“You can hit it fairly hard, but there is time to react,” Hinchey said in outlining aspects of the game, which is also called ‘big ping-pong.’
“It is about getting moving,” he added, in talking about the appeal of the sport.
There is also the strategy – mental side of the game – not to mention the social aspect.
“That’s what people love about it,” Hinchey said.
For more information about the sport, including the upcoming provincial championships in Antigonish, visit the Pickleball Nova Scotia website – pickleballnovascotia.com