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High school pickleball players compete in Snowball Slam

Pickleball likely is a long way from being sanctioned by the Florida High School Athletic Association, but organizers and players must start somewhere. That's where the Snowball Slam High School tournament came in.

That event, which took place Dec. 30 at Tampa Bay Pickleball's six indoor courts at the Oldsmar Flea Market, drew nearly 50 players from 15 high schools. It marked the first tourney solely for high school players and it surely will not be the last.

"We will definitely have another Snowball Slam next year," said Eric Klaus, who founded the facility co-owned by his sons Ben, who attends Alonso High, and Kennedy, a University of Alabama student.

Ben Klaus prepares to return a serve.
Ben Klaus, an Alonso High student and co-owner of Tampa Bay Pickleball, competed in the tournament.

"We couldn't be happier with the turnout and overwhelming positive feedback," Kennedy said.

The air-conditioned facility opened last May. There have been numerous tournaments and leagues there so far. Count high school tourneys on that list now with prospects for more at that level coming soon.

"The Tampa Bay Pickleball Snowball Slam is the first of many high school tournaments and leagues we'll be running in 2024," Ben said. "We're also looking to set up a competitive high school league this spring."

The goal is to continue to push for pickleball to be played at the high school level.

Three high school Pickleball players.
High school players volley at the net during the Snowball Slam.

"Our dream is to make pickleball as common as soccer, baseball and basketball in high schools," Kennedy said. "It's a goal we're passionate about and working to make a reality."

Added Eric, "The goal isn't about today (Dec. 30). It's to grow the sport over the next few years. The goal is to get pickleball in every high school."

The Snowball Slam, initially slated for upper and lower divisions as well as a girls-only category, turned into just upper and lower classes with girls mixed in. Players were guaranteed four games with those advancing playing more.

"We wanted anybody to be able to play," Eric said.

High school players filled the Oldsmar facility playing pickleball.
The six indoor courts at the Oldsmar facility were filled with high school players during the tournament.

Players paid a $30 entry fee with everyone receiving a commemorative T-shirt and the winners earning new paddles. The talent-level ranged from beginners to 4.0 players.

The Klaus family pose for a photo.
Eric and Jennifer Klaus are joined by their sons, Kennedy and Ben, at the indoor facility in Oldsmar.

Upper division winners were doubles partners Kamden Bradstreet and Anthony Valdez, while teammates Benton Fisher and Conner Thornton took the lower division title.

Well aware that pickleball is played by many seniors, the brothers, both of whom have played for about a year, soon realized that the sport is popular with all ages and genders. That is why, in part, they pursued opening the facility with their father's assistance.

By Steve Lee

Times Total Media Correspondent

Photos by Steve Lee

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