Pickleball tournament headlined annual Senior Olympics at Farmington Sports Complex

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — More than 50 participants took to the courts Saturday morning at the Farmington Sports Complex to play in the Farmington Senior Olympic Pickleball Tournament, one of several events making up the annual High Desert Senior Center's Senior Olympics, hosted by the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center.

Doubles teams of varying skill levels competed on recently redesigned tennis courts to play in the event, one of many organized tournaments around the region for a sport which is increasing in popularity.

The rules of pickleball are simple, and are rooted deeply into the sports of tennis, badminton and ping-pong.

Played on a court roughly half the size of a tennis court, the game is played with solid paddles used to hit a perforated polymer ball over a net. The ball is much like a whiffle ball, with 26–40 round holes. Unlike tennis, the ball is served underhand, and games are won by achieving scores of 11, 15, or 21 points.

Nancy Mike and Tim Ulrich won the gold medal in advanced mixed doubles competition at the Farmington Senior Olympic Pickleball Tournament, Saturday, April 9th, 2022 at the Farmington Sports Complex.

At the moment, pickleball is estimated to be played by nearly five million people around the world, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.

The game now has two national professional tournaments, both formed in the last four years, and pickleball organizers are courting corporate sponsors to help grow the sport in the U.S. and abroad as part of a bid for Olympic inclusion.

"There's more than 45 countries already playing the sport, and if that number reaches 75, then it's possible for the sport to be played in the Olympics," according to Lona Warne, a USA Pickleball Ambassador and member of the Northwest New Mexico Pickleball Club.

The Northwest New Mexico Pickleball Club is comprised of more than 70 members, with many of them set to compete again later this month at the Manzano Mesa Pickleball Courts in Albuquerque.

"We've got members ranging in ages from their 20's all the way to our oldest member, who is 92 years old," Warne said. 

In addition to the wide-ranging ages of players across the country and around the world, pickleball is fast becoming a spectator sport. The Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) Tour, formed in 2018, was recently acquired by the owner of the Carolina Hurricanes National Hockey League team. USA Pickleball sanctioned a second pro tour that started a year later, launched by the Association of Pickleball Professionals.

Meantime, the future appears bright for local pickleball competitors. 

Ce Ce Sallee reaches for a volley attempt with her partner Robert David during a match at the Farmington Senior Olympic Pickleball Tournament, Saturday, April 9, 2022 at the Farmington Sports Complex.

There's more opportunities and venues to play pickleball coming soon to Farmington. According to Warne, the city has agreed to building dedicated pickleball courts at Brookside Park which will be completed sometime this summer.

"We're going to have six courts dedicated strictly for pickleball," Warne said. "They'll have seating between the courts for players and spectators, and we'll be able to have tournaments there since we won't have to compete with tennis players for use of the courts."

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In this past weekend's event, medals were awarded to winning teams from beginners level, as well as intermediate and advanced level players.

Crews from the City of Farmington laying down courts for what will soon be dedicated Pickleball courts at Brookside Park, scheduled to be completed this summer.

Michelle Snapp and Marilyn Hazlewood won the gold medal in the women's advanced level competition, followed by silver medalists Gina Koch and Lona Warne and bronze medalists Melissa Sharpe and Susan Bair.

In advanced level mixed doubles competition, Snapp teamed up with Randy Mason to take home the gold, ahead of Koch and Don Mix with Warne and Ed Marquez taking home the bronze.

In men's advanced level action, Mix and Marquez grabbed the gold medal ahead of Mason and Jim Luther, with Steve Ellison and George Sharpe winning the bronze medals.

Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.