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Thursday, September 28, 2023
Sports: Pickleball tourney is a diverse and inclusive showcase
Ashwin Mehra and Sohail Tyabji will be playing in men’s doubles. Immigrants from India, they compete regularly in pickleball tournaments. (Supplied)

Stephen Ferley
Special to The Lake Report

With players from age 17 to 80 and with geographical backgrounds as varied as Sri Lanka, India, China and the U.K., the inaugural NOTL Classic pickleball tournament promises to be a diverse and inclusive showcase of everything the booming sport has to offer.

The youngest competitor at the June 10-11 competition in Niagara-on-the-Lake is 17-year-old Megan Richardson, a Grade 11 student from St. Marys. Ont.

Richardson already claimed a silver medal last year in Tecumseh and is excited now to be playing in the women’s doubles category with her new partner – her mother Carol.

And it’s an all-family affair for the Richardsons, with father Mike also competing.

At the other end of the age spectrum, 30 out of the 280 competitors are older than 70 (nine women and 21 men).

Competitor Jerry Eitze, from the NOTL club, says with the utmost modesty, “I’m fortunate to be playing and winning some tournaments at age 70.”

At the 2022 Canadian nationals, he won gold in men’s singles 65+ (3.5 level) and a silver medal in mixed doubles 65+ (3.5 level).

“The great thing about pickleball is that you can play recreationally or competitively,” Eitze adds.

“It’s a very social game. Many people have helped me with my game. I just hope I can do the same for others.”

As well as the age spread, the tourney includes players with roots in many corners of the world. Some were born in other countries and some are recent generation Canadians.

Countries such as Italy, Germany, South Africa, China, Singapore, Japan, the USA, Poland, Ukraine, India, Sri Lanka, South Korea, the U.K., Jamaica and Ireland are represented among the competitors.

Christina Chin, from Richmond Hill, is playing in the professional exhibition matches on June 9.

She is a first-generation Canadian, with parents arriving in Canada in the 1970s – her mother from Hong Kong, her father from Jamaica.

The men’s doubles team of Raman Wikramasinghe and Chris Fernando are also both first-generation Canadians and very proud of their Sri Lankan roots.

Also in the men’s doubles, Ashwin Mehra and Sohail Tyabji maintain their pickleball is helped by the “tons of cricket” they played growing up in India (as well as some tennis and badminton).

Tyabji arrived in Canada in 2010 and has played in eight Ontario tournaments, earning six medals along the way.

Mehra, who came nine years later in 2019, says, “Pickleball started as a hobby. Now it’s a passion.”

So much so that he says he’ll be introducing the sport to family and friends on his next trip back to India.

Damien Mendez, playing in both the men’s doubles and mixed doubles, arrived in Canada from Singapore at the ripe old age of 21 and had a 19-year career teaching with the Toronto District School Board.

The team of Jeff Gao and Laurie Capogna are a “mixed origin mixed doubles team.”

Gao came directly to Canada from China in 1991 and Capogna’s parents emigrated from Italy in the 1950s.

She retains much of her parents’ love for the old country, even returning last year to play in the fun Pickleball Roma tournament.

Evidence of an ex-U.K. element is provided by Stephanie Howcroft, whose family left Yorkshire, England, and arrived in Canada in 1966 after a storm-challenged Atlantic crossing.

Andrea van Niekerk is in the women’s doubles section of the draw with partner Terri Champion.

Van Niekerk came to Canada from the shores of South Africa in 2017 with husband Kevin and two teenage daughters, both now at university in Ontario.

Sometimes the concept of the Canadian mosaic stretches a lot further back.

Jessica and Matt Kawamoto are playing in the professional exhibition matches.

They were both born and raised in Hamilton and describe themselves as fourth-generation Canadians whose great-grandparents came to Canada from Japan in the 1900s.

The age range and the diversity of the sport are important to corporate sponsors.

Shawn Quinn of Quinn Wealth Management and the lead sponsor of the tournament says, “Pickleball looks to have taken this town by storm.”

“It’s a delight to see retirees playing in the same tournament as young 25-year-olds. We’re pleased to support such a diverse and vibrant sport. It aligns perfectly with our business values.”

Jaye Toulouse, RBC’s regional vice-president for Niagara adds, “At RBC we believe the best way to support a community is to be part of it. That’s why we’re proud to support events like these.”

“We are pleased to support the NOTL Pickleball Club in their tournament which clearly has a very diverse group of players.”

TOURNEY DETAILS: The professional pickleball exhibition matches are Friday, June 9 starting at 7 p.m. at the Meridian Credit Union Arena in Virgil.

Admission is $10, payable at the entrance or by e-transfer to classic@notlpickleball.ca. Children under 12 are free.

On Saturday night there is a pig roast dinner and dance at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Community Centre, from 6 to 10 p.m.

A vegetarian food option is available. Tickets, at $55 per person, can be purchased by e-transfer via classic@notlpickleball.ca.



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