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Sobriety and pickleball unite those in recovery


Organizers and volunteers gathered under The Phoenix tent.
Organizers and volunteers gathered under The Phoenix tent.

While anonymity is a key component to recovery for those dealing with substance or alcohol abuse, pickleball players and volunteers from the Tampa Chapter of The Phoenix were only too eager to bring attention to their recent event.


The inaugural round-robin format recently took place at the Hillsborough Community College courts. It went over so well that organizers are planning on two next year with the next one slated for sometime in the spring.

Hana Toneff and R.J. Casellas reach for the ball at the same time.
Hana Toneff and R.J. Casellas reach for the ball at the same time.

“It’s the fellowship and just getting people out there playing pickleball,” said Cindy Hunger, a local volunteer and accomplished pickleball player now in her 22nd year of recovery.


Hunger, who has played pickleball for two years, noted that the lone requirement to play was to be clean and sober for at least 48 hours.

Pickleball players play at the Hillsborough Community College courts.
Games were played at the Hillsborough Community College courts.

“These are clean and sober events that you can attend,” she said, noting that The Phoenix also organizes golf and bowling outings. “We’re trying to break the stigma of addiction.”


When approached by Hunger to put on a pickleball event, Brittany Garner, the Tampa

chapter’s director, welcomed the idea.


“(Hunger’s) passion is pickleball and at The Phoenix we help bring to light what (people’s)

passion is.”

The top three medalists - Bobbi Kennedy, Scott Kilbourne and R.J. Casellas - pose for a photo.
The top three medalists were Bobbi Kennedy, Scott Kilbourne and R.J. Casellas.

Patrick Clark, who plays pickleball weekly and volunteers at The Phoenix, competed in the event at the HCC courts. Upon learning about the event, he said, “I was all for it.”


Added Gil Fernandez, his partner on the court, “I’m for any organization that’s trying to help with addiction.”


Having played tennis, badminton and racquetball, Fernandez appeared to catch on fairly quickly despite it being his first time playing pickleball.


“I kept hearing about it and I said that’s something fun to do,” he said. “It’s fun. I’ll probably do it again.”


It was especially fun for the top three finishers. Bobbi Kennedy earned the gold medal with Scott Kilbourne and his son Casellas Kilbourne taking the bronze and silver, respectively.


“It was perfect in the sense that there were so many levels of players. That’s what makes it fun,” said Kennedy, who has been playing for about a year and took part in her first tourney.


A former tennis player, Scott Kilbourne took up pickleball this past spring. “This is a good way to get involved with (pickleball) and learn,” he said.


Having played just three times, Anabel Navarro is another newcomer who, like many, wants to play as often as she can.


“I had a hard time, but then I came more and fell in love with it,” she said.


By Steve Lee

Times Total Media Correspondent

Photos by Steve Lee

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