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Saturday pickleball leagues are played in two neighboring counties

Beginning in mid-September and extending through Nov. 30, six locations in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties accommodate players for Saturday pickleball leagues. They are part of U.S. Team Pickleball.

The local league, which includes 222 players on 19 teams, has been around for nine years. Sessions have no age limit with league director Maggie McClintock listing players from 18-70.

“It’s a lot of fun,” she said, adding, “If we only had 100 more courts.”

Mike Werley and William Crowley play pickleball together.
Mike Werley and William Crowley were partners for the Dragons.

Last year, U.S. Team Pickleball added a weekday league with games mostly played on Wednesdays. It numbers more than 58 players, ages 60-and-older, on five teams.

“There was such a demand for a weekday (league),” McClintock said. “They’re generally retired so they’re all available during the week.”

Additionally, McClintock, who plays on two Saturday teams, said a ladies league might start up early in 2024.

Currently, games are played at these country clubs or tennis centers: Bardmoor in Seminole, East Lake Woodlands in Oldsmar, Highlander Park in Dunedin, Hillsborough Community College, McMullen in Clearwater and Northlakes in Tampa.

The Dragons and Highlanders pose for a photo together on the pickleball courts.
The Dragons and Highlanders played recently at the McMullen Tennis Complex.

In a recent Saturday matchup at McMullen, the Dunedin Highlanders took on the Bardmoor Dragons in men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles. The Highlanders won 183-125.

Both teams had a mix of players, some with league and tournament experience and others trying league play for the first time. Newcomer Parker Webster, 23, and 55-year-old league veteran Tonya Eichenberger represented that mix.

“It’s definitely a little more competitive, because you want to win,” Webster said.

For the most part, the more competitive nature of league play is what attracts players.

Newcomer Parker Webster and Tonya Eichenberger pose for a photo together with their pickleball paddles on the pickleball court.
Newcomer Parker Webster and Tonya Eichenberger, a more experienced player, teamed up in women’s doubles.

“I like the pressure,” said William Crowly, at 62 and playing his first season in the league. “I want to play (in the league) because I want to get used to that pressure.”

“It’s the next level of competition,” said Bob Goodman, the Dragons’ captain. “A lot of people are former high school and college players in one sport or another (like Webster, who played volleyball at Newsome High). Winning or losing is not the end-all but it just makes you focus better and move a little quicker.”

Joy Schirm and Bruce Hancock play pickleball together on the court.
Joy Schirm and Bruce Hancock play in mixed doubles.

Roger Cleworth, who captains the Highlanders and plays as a double-leg amputee, concurred. He also spoke on why so many pickleball enthusiasts are attracted to the sport.

“What we like about the sport, and for me missing legs, is you stand in one spot (some more than others),” he said. “You can get out and exercise because it’s not a run-around sport.”

By Steve Lee

Times Total Media Correspondent

Photos by Steve Lee

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