Third-Annual International Pickleball Tournament Set For This Week
GROWTH: Northwest Sports Hub Hosts Fast-Growing Tournament and Sport
By Matt Baide
More than 400 pickleball players will descend upon Centralia this week for the annual International Pickleball Tournament at the Northwest Sports Hub.
Kenneth Lee is the tournament director, and he brought the tournament to Centralia after its early years in SeaTac.
“I didn’t like SeaTac because it only had four courts and it was very tight, so I moved it down to Tacoma, where they gave me six courts,” Lee said. “It was much better. We had more courts, more space, but pickleball became more and more popular, so we needed more room.”
The Sports Hub, completed in 2014, gave Lee an opportunity to move the tournament and have even more room.
“It just fit in the same scheme of plan that we had,” he said. “This place, we’re able to do 26 courts right now.”
And since the move down to Centralia, the tournament has grown. Lee noted that in SeaTac and Tacoma, there were about 130 players. In the first year at the NW Sports Hub, the tournament drew about 240 players. Last year, the tournament had 370 entries, and this year, there will be 462 players in the tournament, which runs from Wednesday to Sunday.
What is pickleball? Created on Bainbridge Island in 1965, it’s a mixture of badminton, ping-pong and tennis.
“If I had to pick one particular sport, it’s probably ping pong,” Lee said.
The tournament is also expanding due to the way the sport has grown in recent years. Lee said there are about 2.5 million pickleball players, compared to about 1,000 when he started playing around seven years ago.
“It has grown bigger here because of the number of courts. As more places provide more courts, indoor or outdoor, I think more and more people will come out and play,” Lee said.
The tournament is labeled as an international tournament for good reason, as people from all over the world come to Centralia to compete.
“It is the biggest true indoor pickleball tournament in the world right now,” Lee said. “Right now, we have a lot of Canadian folks. Actually, I think we have more Canadian folks coming here than Oregon folks. It’s amazing.”
Not only do they come from the neighbors in the north, but players come from England, India, Mexico and Aruba.
The tournament is divided into groups by age and/or skill level. Skill levels are based from 1 to 5 in half-point increments, and most players will start off at the 3.0 skill level. The highest skill level is a 5.0, which are elite players that compete in the highest levels of the sport and try to earn national and international championships.
“At 3.0, it basically means you can play. You may not be good like a 5.0 player, but you’ll be competitive enough to where you’re going to have a game,” Lee said. “You may not have all the shots, you may not have all the strategies, but it’s good enough for you to actually play.”
The event is free for anyone to come out and watch, and Lee said it has been a lot of fun to put this tournament on in Centralia each year.
“What drives me is seeing the fun out of as many players as I see,” Lee said. “I love the sport. If I didn’t play the sport, I’d be 20 pounds heavier, can’t walk as much, this is such a fun sport. Not only is it fun, but it’s social. You get a chance to laugh, so (there’s) many good things in one sport besides exercise. It’s competitive, it’s exciting, it’s everything you want in a sport plus all these other things. That’s what I really like about this.”
And if there are those interested in trying out a new sport, Lee said the sport is a social event in addition to being a competitive outlet.
“You come out here, and you play, and you do these rallies and you hear more laughter than anything else,” Lee said. “And after a match, after an event like this, they get together, they go out. It’s unlike any other sport. It’s one where it really brings people together.”