Pickleball pioneer Carol Haworth won gold and silver medals at the first ever Pickleball Canada National Open Championship

Pickleball pioneer Carol Haworth won gold and silver medals at the first ever Pickleball Canada National Open Championship

Great game with strange name gains momentum

Chilliwack has become a major hub for the growing game of Pickleball, a favourite with the senior set.

If you’d told Carol Haworth  at 50 years old that she would be winning national titles at 71, she would have given you a real funny look and called you daft.

If you’d told her that she would spend her golden years passionately advocating for a sport named after a preserving process, she’d have slowly backed away and looked for help.

If you’d told her that Chilliwack would be a hotbed of activity for one of North America’s fastest growing sports — well, at least that one might have seemed feasible.

Yet here we are in 2012, and all these things have come to pass.

Haworth is a national champion.

Haworth is a passionate advocate for pickle-ball.

And Chilliwack has become the northern frontier for a game that was born in the Seattle area and found its legs in the southern United States.

Haworth’s title  came two weeks ago at Pickleball Canada’s first ever National Open Championship, held at the Abbotsford Rec. Centre and Yale secondary school.

The tournament was national in name but international in scope, with several Americans making the trip to the Fraser Valley.

“I think we had 160-plus people who entered the competition, and we had 14 courts,” Haworth said. “For a first-time event, it was hectic but it was really well run. The level of play was just superb.”

Haworth took top spot in the 70-plus women’s doubles competition, and teamed with Earl Hill to finish second in the 70-plus mixed-doubles division.

Several other Chilliwackians won hardware at the tournament.

Elaine Griffiths won silver in 70-plus women’s doubles and again in 65-plus mixed doubles.

Kathy Parkes was a gold medalist in the 60-plus women’s doubles division.

Henry Meerkirk, Brian Parkes and Mandy Witt claimed bronze medals.

Haworth, who has competed and won at the World Senior Games level, was delighted to face some of the best of the best — players who can match her in technical and strategic expertise.

“When you first start the game, it’s all about standing at the back line and banging the ball as hard as you can,” Haworth explained. “But close to 80 per cent of pickleball now is what we call the ‘soft’ or ‘dinking’ game. It’s a cat and mouse style, and it’s interesting playing, and watching, games against people who know how to play that sort of game.”

The formation of a national governing body (Pickleball Canada) two years ago has been another significant step forward for what Haworth calls the “great game with the strange name.”

Search Google.ca and you’ll find pickleball associations springing up everywhere. You’ll find online merchants selling pickleball paddles.

Here in Chilliwack, Dave Snyder in the Parks and Recreation Department has helped Pickleball Chilliwack get outdoor courts at GW Graham.

No longer are they confined to the dark gymnasium at Evergreen Hall. Five years ago, Pickleball Chilliwack had 20 regulars. They have more than 30 now, with a whole bunch more coming and going at various points in the year.

With the first national tournament out of the way, Haworth thinks it likely Pickleball Chilliwack will host one of its own in 2013. With nine new courts staked out at GWG, she thinks they have the venue they need.

“It’s exciting that we’ve grown so much and every time I open my mouth I’m talking pickleball,” Haworth laughed.

Get more info on Pickleball Chilliwack from Haworth at 604-792-5885, Ken Witt (604-769-2717) or the Chilliwack Seniors Society (604-793-9979).