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Crowd converges on Salisbury for state pickleball tournament

SALISBURY — A flurry of rackets, bright yellow balls and competition is filling a corner of Catawba College’s campus this weekend.

Johnson Tennis Center is filled with the “bops” from 18 matches of pickleball being played simultaneously for the North Carolina Pickleball Championships. The major tournament is a first for Salisbury, bringing in players from across the state and of all skill levels to compete. The tournament features a mix of brackets for all skills and ages, with the youngest players in high school and the oldest in their 70s. It continues today.

There is a total of about $6,500 up for grabs as well.

Organizer Jon Post said 380 people registered to compete, though were a few last-minute drop outs. Post is a lifelong racket sport player. He organized tennis tournaments before transitioning to pickleball a few years ago.

The tournament was held in Winston-Salem in 2019 and canceled in 2020. Post was tapped to take over organizing the tournament this year and worked with Catawba to bring it to his hometown.

The game borrows elements from other racket sports and meshes them together. The result looks like a miniature and less physically taxing take on tennis. The courts are smaller, the rackets are smaller, the balls are lighter and players are much closer together.

What would normally be six tennis courts at the center tripled into the smaller pickleball courts.

Post said hosting tournaments outdoors comes with some extra challenges. The equipment, including tents and electronics, have to be broken down at the end of each day and put back up the next morning. The organizers have fixed temporary lines on the court after they shifted during the night. But early mornings and late evenings invested in the tournament paid off.

“People don’t give their money so freely if it’s not a good experience when they get there,” Post said. “The players have to have a good experience.”

Post said his goal is to have people playing as much as possible and not wait hours between matches.

“Once they start playing, they want to keep playing,” Post said, noting the volunteers working the tournament are an important part of running things smoothly.

Nancy Eason volunteered as a runner, taking score cards from matches to the registration stand so the results could be entered and the next match can begin.

“It’s fabulous that we have this tournament here,” Eason said.

Eason plays pickleball as well. Four years ago, she saw people playing at a local YMCA branch, gave it a try and was hooked.

Mike McCord, a player in a high skill bracket, got into the game because his wife and himself were looking for a new way to exercise.

“If you ever pick it up, you’re addicted, automatically,” McCord said

A Lincolnton resident, McCord travels more than an hour regularly to find good competition. It’s not just about the sport for McCord. One of his favorite parts of the game is how many good people there are to meet at competitions.

Peter Neuenswander, who lives near Raleigh in the town of Morrisville, got into the game after his father-in-law invited him to play. They started playing a couple times a week, and that turned into playing every day.

Neuenswander’s favorite part of the game is the competition and constantly getting better.

“It’s something you can pick up and just play, but there is a wide range of skill levels,” he said.

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