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Ardea hosts pickleball tournament for a Rotary Club

The Rotary Club of Safety Harbor Noon organized its first-ever pickleball tournament, which recently took place at the Ardea Country Club. It will not be the last on those courts at East Lake Woodlands in Oldsmar.


“Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport globally and Ardea recognizes that,” said Stephen Welt, Ardea’s director of racquet sports.


The Johnsons had three generations playing in the tournament. Here, the family poses for a photo on the pickleball court.
The Johnsons had three generations playing in the tournament.

In all, 60 players competed in the tourney with championships in two divisions — 2.5-3.5 and 3.5-4.5 — up for grabs. They filled the courts at Ardea, which is expanding and renovating its facility.


“It was about what we thought for the first time,” Welt said of the turnout, adding that next year’s tourney likely will be moved from the last Saturday in January to the first weekend in February.


“I think everyone’s getting a lot of court time,” added tournament director and Rotary member Todd Demko.


Stephen Welt, Ardea’s director of racquet sports, goes over a score sheet with Alyson March, the Oldsmar Oranges captain who played in the tourney.
Stephen Welt, Ardea’s director of racquet sports, goes over a score sheet with Alyson March, the Oldsmar Oranges captain who played in the tourney.

Among the players was Eric Johnson, the Rotary Club’s president who competed with his 20-year-old son. He also got his parents, Clearwater residents Hal and Debbie, to come out.

“Events like this help us to give money back into the community,” said Johnson, citing beneficiaries that include a homeless shelter and food pantry.


In a tourney that did not draw many high-ranked players, Victor Seibert and Noah Hasselback won the upper division while newcomers Holly and James Bessell won the 2.5-3.5 title.


A men’s doubles match was highly contested during the tourney. Here, men's doubles players compete in a match.
A men’s doubles match was highly contested during the tourney.

The Bessells, who have only played since October, decided to enter their first tourney together after taking just one lesson at Tampa Bay Pickleball in Oldsmar.


“We just had fun,” James said. “We expected absolutely nothing and just wanted to enjoy ourselves. Our goal was just to win a game.”


After losing their first match, the Bessells won the next five. Holly attributed that success, in part, to 30 years of marriage.


“Good communication,” she said. “This is just something fun that we can do together.”


Players volley close to the net.
Players volley close to the net.

Like many pickleball players, the Bessells come from athletic backgrounds. Both were college athletes, with Holly playing first at Keswick Christian in St. Petersburg and later at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. while James played baseball at Florida Southern in Lakeland.


Holly echoed the sentiment of many pickleball players, who relish the sport’s social aspect.

“We met a lot of nice people from the area,” she said.


So did doubles partners Alyson March and Kris Krbavac, teammates on the Oldsmar Oranges who played together in their fourth tourney.


“It was exciting to be in the first Rotary tournament; great competition and wonderful people,” March said. “We look forward to doing it again next year.”


By Steve Lee

Times Total Media Correspondent

Photos by Steve Lee

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