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Sunday, July 14, 2024
Pickleball lovers win on the court and in friendships
NOTLer Damien Mendez keeps his eyes on the prize. (Dave Van de Laar)
NOTL pickleball player Gary Jensen moves quick to return the ball to his opponent. (Evan Loree)
Melanie Chittenden, left, and her partner Lia Carlyle poised for their next match. (Evan Loree)
Melanie Chittenden reaches high for the ball. (Evan Loree)
Hundreds of spectators packed the stands at the Meridian Credit Union arena in Virgil on Friday for the first-ever NOTL Pickleball Classic tournament. (Richard Harley)
Christina Chin and Adam Eatock took home gold medals at the NOTL Pickleball Class tournament. (Richard Harley)
Christina Chin returns the ball, helping her team earn a win at the exhibition matches on Friday at Meridian Credit Union Arena in Virgil. (Dave Van de Laar)
Jill Milrose, left, and Jerry Skilton won gold in the 2.5 level for players 50 plus. (Somer Slobodian)
Players face off at the Meridian Credit Union arena in Virgil last Friday for the first-ever NOTL Pickleball Classic tournament. (Dave Van de Laar)
John Hindle referees one of the matches at the pickleball tournament on Sunday. (Somer Slobodian)

For some pickleball players at the NOTL Classic pickleball tournament, the joy of the sport doesn’t just come from scoring a point or serving an ace.

Just ask Lia Carlyle and Melanie Chittenden, both Niagara-on-the-Lake residents and teammates in the tournament.

The two met only six months ago — but you wouldn’t know it from the way they interacted with each other. 

“I think when we first met, we just kind of clicked,” Carlyle said.

Carlyle has been playing pickleball for about a year, and Chittenden has been playing for about eight months.

The people you get to meet and play with are one of the great benefits of the sport, Carlyle said.

“The social part of it is incredible,” she said. 

Steve Ferley, one of the tournament’s organizers, agreed.

“You enjoy it on the court, but you also enjoy the social aspect around it,” he said.

When The Lake Report spoke to Carlyle and Chittenden on Saturday morning, they had won three out of four games in the round robin. 

They played a bronze medal match later on and, though it was a tight game, lost 15-13.

They were competing in the 2.5 level for the 50 to 64 age bracket. 

The 2.5 division is for intermediate players who have not played in a tournament before, Carlyle said. 

Shari Sartor and Terri Champion from Niagara-on-the-Lake also competed in the 2.5 level but were competing in the under-50 division. They won silver in the women’s doubles. 

Both started playing pickleball in the Niagara-on-the-Lake Pickleball Club after a friend told them about it. 

“Once you try it, you fall in love with it,” said Sartor. 

NOTLers Brian Russell and Gary Jensen spoke to The Lake Report on Saturday after their first game, which they won 11-1. They competed in the 2.5 level in the over-65 division. 

Russell not only likes to have fun, he likes to come out on top.

“I love to win, I always try my best,” he said. 

“If we’re up 10 nothing, we’re gonna go for 11 nothing,” he added. 

Both were introduced to pickleball by a friend. 

The tournament ran from Friday to Sunday at the Meridian Credit Union Arena in Virgil and was run by more than 100 volunteers. 

Though it was a first for NOTL, Ferley said it ran smoothly with very few hiccups. 

“The facilities are really nice,” said Emily Hinton from Squamish, B.C., who was at the tournament on Sunday supporting her partner, Aaron Vickery.

I’ve been to quite a few tournaments, and this is a really nice setup. And, they’ve organized it super well,” she added. 

She was at the tournament with her parents, Sara and Brad McMillan from Lion’s Head, Ontario.

All three of them play for fun and enjoy how easy it is to pick up the sport. 

“We don’t play quite as seriously (as Vickery), but it’s just, we can all play together, which is such a nice thing,” said Hinton. 

Ferley said a lot goes into planning a tournament of this size, but he’d like to see it run again in the future. 

“We’ve had literally over 100 people volunteering, that’s a huge demand to put on people, but I think they’re willing to do it again,” he said.

“That’s the impression that we get.”

— With files from Evan Loree

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