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Hot Corner: Picking my way to fun

By Rich Palzewic
Sports Editor

HOWARD ─ I couldn’t think of a better way to enjoy last Saturday morning than to join the first Frosty Pickle Pickleball Tournament at Meadowbrook Park in Howard.

This past summer, the Village of Howard installed three courts south of Meadowbrook Elementary School down the hill where the basketball courts used to be.

If you haven’t heard of pickleball, it’s been around for more than 50 years and is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country.

It’s a racket sport combining elements of badminton, table tennis and tennis.

Two to four players use solid paddles made of wood or composite material to hit a plastic ball, similar to a whiffle ball.

I’ve played for about five years but haven’t much in the last year.

In the grand scheme of things, I’m an average to slightly above average player.

I recently got back into playing because my friend, Jesse Virlee, wanted me to teach him.

Since the weather has been nice, we’ve played numerous times this fall.

If you haven’t played the game, I’m (almost) begging you to try.

Years ago, one of my friends asked if I’ve ever heard of pickleball ─ I had no idea what he was talking about.

Five years later, I wish I had started 20 years ago.

It’s for the young and old, and you don’t necessarily have to be athletic to be good.

Some of the best players I’ve played against are older and a bit heavier.

They put themselves in the right position and use good strategy.

The area is becoming a hotbed for pickleball, with courts also located at Kiwanis Park in Allouez, Legion Park in De Pere, Edison Middle School in Green Bay and Fort Howard Park in Ashwaubenon.

Earlier last week, Jesse sent a group text to a dozen people asking if anybody was interested in a tournament.

After he and I quickly took the bait, we recruited six more of the meanest players you’ll ever find.

Some hadn’t even played since high school.

With 25-degree temperatures and light winds ─ heavy winds are not your friend in pickleball ─ I knew it would be a nice morning.

I found my Green Bay Gamblers hockey hat, gloves and paddle and walked/jogged the mile from my house to Meadowbrook Park.

Jesse had outdone himself on this one.

When we arrived, he pulled out his whiteboard and cards to randomly partner each player for seven different games.

It was simple ─ you played one game with every other player and received a point for each win.

The player with the most total points would be crowned champion.

Jesse’s tournament setup was nice, but I was more impressed with the tournament trophy ─ a hand-painted frosty pickle Christmas tree ornament made by his wife, Jenn.

I fell in love with it the moment I laid my blue eyes on it.

I wanted it, but I knew I had to earn it.

I finished with a perfect 7-0 record, and the pickle was mine.

Sports Editor Rich Palzewic proudly displaying his pickle Christmas tree ornament for being crowned champion of the first Frosty Pickle Pickleball Tournament Dec. 5 at Meadowbrook Park in Howard. Jesse Virlee Photo

Some of the games were close, while others weren’t.

Most importantly, we had fun, made memories and I didn’t get drilled by any balls, unlike the previous week when Jesse nailed me good.

After the official tournament ended, we all played three more games.

After my partner Brett and I won the first two, we faced Jesse and his partner Adam in the last match of the day.

I’d like to say it was an epic battle that came down to the last point, but that wouldn’t be the truth.

We lost 11-6, and everyone gave me a hard time because “Rich finally lost.”

We’re talking about doing a league next year.

Who knows, maybe we’ll start in January.

After everyone left the courts, I hobbled the mile home, took my shoes off, ate, popped a few Advil, hung my new ornament in the tree and admired it for 15 seconds and then took a 10-minute nap.

Every future Christmas, I’ll look at the pickle and reminisce about Dec. 5, 2020 ─ the day I was crowned the champion of the first Frosty Pickle Pickleball Tournament.

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