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Dink to Donate Pickleball Tournament promotes the sport and raised funds for charity

Updated: Jul 12, 2023


The top finishers of various categories for men’s doubles gathered for a group photo.

Billed as the fastest-growing sport in America with more than five million players, pickleball, founded in the Seattle area in 1965, is thriving with many tennis facilities converting their courts. The Tampa Bay area is no different with plenty of places to play in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties.

Most facilities primarily offer pickup sessions since league play and tournaments are few and far between, especially in the hot summer months. The recent Dink to Donate tourney, however, brought players from the region and beyond, not only to test their mettle against others but for a charitable cause.

Proceeds from the competition, which took place in late May at the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex, were earmarked for that site’s mental health recreational and inclusion programming. After expenses, about $3,500 was raised.

The top two teams in Ladies Doubles 3.0+ were: No. 1, Erin Holton and Laura Hawkins; No. 2, Denicia Conley and Chenine Brooks.

“It was a complete success,” Thomopalos added. “We got such positive feedback with people calling to thank us for providing a fundraiser for a very important cause.”

Among those calling to thank organizers was Alex Wadsworth, who has dealt with mental illness in his family.

“I thought everybody was super nice,” he said. “I have family dealing with mental illness.”

Wadsworth and his partner, Tampa’s Gary Idonov, finished near the bottom of the standings, but he aims to keep improving. Wadsworth built a pickleball court on his property in Lutz and has begun hosting tournaments there with the next one planned for late July.

Another player who did not fare as well as she would have liked but nonetheless enjoyed competing in the tourney is Clearwater’s April Tatro, who teamed up with Stephanie Skantze of Tampa.

“Val and Kathy put on a very good tournament,” said Tatro, noting that in the round-robin format “you get to play everybody so you get a feel for all the teams. It’s probably one of the better tournaments.”

The Ladies Doubles 60+ 3.0 best duos featured: first, Caroline Martin and Connie Bjella; second, Renee Bandison and Phyllis Booker.

McCausey and Thomopalos, International Federation of Pickleball instructors who did not play in the tourney, filled the brackets with 98 players who competed for gold, silver and bronze medals. The inaugural event went over so well that they plan to do a second Dink to Donate tourney next May.


“It brings not only players, but it brings their families and friends,” McCausey said of pickleball tourneys. “We get fans who then participate. It shows them what competitive play looks like.”

The best three teams in mixed doubles 3.0 included: No. 1, Lisa and Russ Johnson, No. 2; Pon Sauer and Manny Cerqueira; and No. 3, Kristen and Ryan Flannigan.

By Steve Lee

Times Total Media Correspondent Photos courtesy of Pickleball Fanatics.biz

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