By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., SDL (He/Him)
This year, Pickleball is making its debut at the Sin City Classic and is one of the fastest growing sports in the USA. Our managing editor of sports caught up with Pickleball organizers, Darla and Elise to get the scoop on the inaugural Pickleball tournament coming up at this year’s Sin City Classic!
Dirk Smith: I’ve only briefly played Pickleball once in my life, but it seems to be quite a growing sport! How did ya’ll get involved?
Elise: We started in Seattle about five years ago, even though pickleball was founded in Bainbridge, Washington, Seattle had no pickleball courts. So, we were playing on tennis courts using tape to create a pickleball court. I am not a racket person, but I am an ex-athlete and when I first tried it, I realized why I liked it is I loved hitting other people. That’s not how you play the game of course, [laughs] but I was having fun. Later on, we moved to Las Vegas and our area has four really beautiful pickleball court. When we arrived, we had no friend base here, so we got involved in the local league and everybody was just so welcoming, friendly and nice. Until I started hitting them with the ball.
DS: Yeah, people usually don’t like it when you do that!
Elise: But my wife Kelly plays every stinking day. I play maybe once every two weeks. But she loves it. At one point, I asked him why and mentioned it’s the fastest growing sport in America, but he explained to me how the Sin City Classic tournament program is structured and how I could organize the pickleball tournament. The problem was though, I have no idea how to run a tournament. I just want to hit balls at people. So very soon thereafter I was introduced to Darla who’s like the queen of pickleball in Las Vegas. I’ll let her continue the story, so take it away. Darla.
DS: Be careful Darla, watch out for those balls she’s hitting at you!
Darla: Oh, yeah, I’ve been there. I played against her many times, and I just duck a lot. She’s a good player, if she could stop injuring herself. She’s crazy and she’s going to be amazing as she goes through it. I started pickleball about two years ago and my biggest quest is to find opportunities for beginner players to get on the courts. When you go to tournaments, they’re usually designed with bracket play that favor more experienced players and newer players get less playing time. So, what we do to encourage more gameplay among newer players is we do small round robins that really give them a great introduction to it before adding in the bracket play. We’ve been doing tournaments on the roof of the Plaza Hotel which used to be called Union Plaza, down on Fremont Street. That’s where we’re playing this tournament. We just got our pickleball courts re-done and resurfaced earlier this year. We’ve got 16 of them and they’re absolutely gorgeous, so we’re super excited to roll that out with this tournament.
I do tournaments every single month and I absolutely love it. It’s very rewarding with your job when you go home at the end of the day and people are like, “oh my gosh, I have so much fun. That was the best time!” I love it and I feel very lucky to be part of it. With this being our inaugural season for the Sin City Classic for pickleball, we’ve had an amazing response with a lot of people signing up. I’m so excited. It’s just great. We have every bracket going, especially on the men’s side and all have plenty of teams to get a great round robin going followed by a nice and challenging playoff. We are a little less on the woman’s side, so we are looking for more women to register. We’d love to have some more women’s teams. We do have enough teams to get a great round robin going but we don’t have the quite the diversity yet to be able to break it up as I’d like so we are still hoping to get more women registered.
DS: That all sounds awesome, and I am excited that you’ve had such a strong response so far! Tell me more about the tournament itself?
Darla: It’s a two-day tournament and we’re doing it early in the Sin City Classic, on Thursday and Friday. This way, a lot of people who are coming out don’t have to worry about deciding between Pickleball and another sport because we’re the only sport going on that Thursday, while Friday are only very few events going on. We’re super glad we scheduled it this way to maximize participation. On Thursday will be women’s doubles and men’s double, then on Friday, it’s a mixed double category. As well, we have a round robin going. The individual Round Robin is the only category where you’ll get a new partner on each game and two new opponents. All the rest, men’s doubles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles, you’ll stay with your same partner for all the games. So, if you enjoy playing with a certain person, then you can continue to play with them.
DS: Are you offering anything particular as part of the tournament?
Darla: Elise has set some really fun things for each day where athletes will get to win some cool prizes, including some great swag. I like swag too. Then of course, just a lot of fun and laughter That’s what you can anticipate with this event.
DS: I know Elise has, but Darla, as a resident of Las Vegas, have you ever heard of the Sin City Classic?
Darla: I have not. There are so many events that are happening in Vegas since it’s a big destination city. But this was one of the events I hadn’t heard of as I’m not an athlete, I was a cheerleader in high school, a dancer and racquetball player in college and but not what you would consider a team sport.
DS: Sounds like you are quite the athlete! Cheerleaders, dancers, racquetball players, pickleball players, that’s all athletics! You are very much an athlete!
Darla: I’m very passionate about pickleball. Let me tell you, I love it. It is my sport and I’m happy I found it and about the turnout for the tournament. We have about 125 total athletes playing between the two days, which is just such a great number for our inaugural season. I’m thrilled about the great turnout, and we still have another three weeks to bring in more athletes. We’re happy to do so and hope we can get more from here.
Elise: And we’re going to the probably one of the coolest classic hotels, the Plaza, that has got so much history behind it, and I can’t believe that the pickleball courts are on the fifth floor on the roof. The pictures are always beautiful when we take pictures of the players, and you see that background. It’s gorgeous.
DS: It sounds like you’re going to have some of the best photos from the whole tournament with the whole Las Vegas landscape in the background in the middle of an action shot. Are you going to be offering medals for the winners?
Darla: So, the round robin just seeds the top four teams and then they’ll do a playoff series where the winners will play for Gold, Silver, and Bronze. The medals are gorgeous too, so we’re excited to offer them for the players.
DS: Are you looking forward to any other parts of the Sin City Classic outside of the competition?
Elise: The opening party is always pretty cool. I’m planning to be at a table at the party on Thursday night. To see if there’s any interest and players. It’s a madhouse and there’s a lot of alcohol. My wife and I have only been once where we met Sam Lehman when we first moved here two years ago. Sam told us about it and encouraged us to go, so I bought VIP tickets, which were super cheap. Since we just moved, I wanted to be around the LGBTQ+ community and it’s always a party. I’m like, “oh, this is awesome!” Just seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces, everyone was so excited. It’s such a friendly, competitive event for all the sports. That’s what I’m looking forward to.
DS: I am looking forward to meeting ya’ll there too! Thank you so much for taking the time to share all this with me!
To learn more about Pickleball and register, visit https://www.sincityclassic.org/sports/pickleball