You have to admire ”good old Yankee know how”. A good example of this is the ”can do” attitude of the pickleballers who live in the Surprise/Sun City area of Arizona. In my last edition you got to hear from Dee Davison, who is one of the founders of the LeMaster-Davison Classic. Later in this edition, I have an interview with player and pickleball entrepreneur Gigi LeMaster. First off though, I am pleased to present some input from a young pro player who is playing at the LMD.
The LeMaster-Davison Classic Part Two
Here is the interview with Kyle Yates
1. Hey Kyle, I noticed in last year’s LMD tourney that you were on the podium for two silver medals. In men’s doubles with Darin Hurdman and in mixed doubles with Stephanie Lane….I know you and Stephanie have great chemistry when you two play together, but I want to leave that topic for another interview….. I want to concentrate on your partners for this weekend….Have you teamed up with Aspen Kern before, and what do you like about his game?
KY – I had just met Aspen last year at the LMD and he and Enrique beat Darin and I, so I was impressed with his game…Months later I was able to play against him at the Nationals. I haven’t talked to him much, but we both admire each other’s skill sets. I think we would like to partner up more often but we just don’t get many opportunities. I’m excited to see how we do in our first event together. I would really like to win with him…Either way, he’s a great partner and it will be fun just competing.
2. I haven’t seen Vivian Edwards, your MXD partner, on any YouTube videos. Is she someone you play with in your home state of Florida?
KY – I have never met Vivian. I’ve seen her name a few times–I know she played at Nationals and held her own. I was registered, needing a mixed partner, and was prepared to skip the event all together when I got an email from her asking to play. I’m too competitive to sit and watch, so it was an easy decision to play with her. I personally haven’t met her yet but I’ve hear great things about her and her game. In this sport, you are constantly meeting and playing with new people, so it will be fun to see how we adapt to each other in short notice.
3. Aspen Kern, Corrine Carr, Daniel Moore, Christine McGrath, Matt Staub and yourself are part of a younger group of players that are making their mark in a sport that is primarily played by an older crowd. Do you think that pickleball is getting younger, and attracting a youth following?
KY – I don’t think the game was ever really geared towards older people, but rather they just flocked to it sooner. The game was invented for the kids’ enjoyment but their parents had fun with it also. I feel that in the past decade it has been marketed solely towards retirees–seeing that that was an excellent demographic to expand on. It was a game that they could play easily and be silly–which appealed to that crowd. I think that just recently, in the past few years, younger people have started picking up the game in spite of the shallow marketing. As for players like Matt Staub and Corrine, that is an entirely new demographic that could be potentially huge for the sport: Ex-college athletes, mid to late 20’s. This could be the age range we see more of in the 5.0 level. I think that any age younger will be considered outliers….What I mean by that is–most kids under 24 are either: 1. In school… 2. Working … 3. Both…
Pickleball requires a time freedom. It also requires financial help to travel. Most kids that age have neither. Player like Matt, for instance, played college baseball and a lot of tennis growing up. He played some pickleball around that time but didn’t really get the chance to play competitively until after college. He is now a pharmacist, doing well, and making time for pickleball…..Most people wouldn’t make so much time for pickleball. He makes the time because he knows how much fun it is, but also he can compete. Even the guys that win the most (Wes G, Moore, etc) aren’t making any real money! If the very elite can’t make a living then why would a 22yr old 4.0 play competitively?….There is not enough financial support within the sport to really attract younger players. The ones who play now are the anomalies. There are very few 5.0 pro players under 25 years old. I can only think of maybe 5 in the world.
So, people can claim that the sport is growing in the younger demographics, but I just don’t see a real trend. I feel the only reason we are noticing younger players (25-30) is because they are winning more now. The game has evolved to where athleticism helps much more. They are winning more often even though there is only a few of them. There has to be an incentive for kids to play other than just having fun. Pickleball can’t be just a waste of time and money for college/high school kids. According to win%, the younger guys/gals are taking the 5.0 divisions…That was inevitable. I hope more younger players pick up the sport, but I feel that it’s just not worth the time and money to keep the habit.
4. Last question, Kyle….As well as the thrill of competition, are the cash prizes that are up for grabs at the LeMaster-Davison a good motivation for you to travel to Arizona to compete in this event?
KY – The cash prize at the LMD was less than enticing. I think that to draw large fields, the money helps. However, that’s not at all the reason I’m playing.
To the 5.0 pro players, we know we aren’t going to make money at tournaments. Nobody (unless you’re the 1% who wins the big money tournaments, or your name is Scott Moore) makes money at tournaments–even if they win them. I’m going because it’s a great field at a neat venue. Some of us on the East Coast don’t get to play very often, if at all, especially not against the top 5.0 players. I need as much practice as I can get and if that means flying to Phoenix then I’ll do it. The only reason I even consider going is because I know I can compete and have a realistic chance of playing lots of matches. Winning tournaments like these are great but not the real purpose to playing. Every tournament I play in my goal is to play as many matches as possible; which means win as much as possible. If I couldn’t find good, solid partners or anyone I felt I could compete with, then I would have saved my money and stayed in Florida. I’m lucky to have Aspen and Vivian that weekend and I know they both will compete. So to answer your question bluntly: the LMD money isn’t the motivation for ME to go play that tournament.
* Thanks Kyle, you talk a good game, as well as being a ”star” pickleballer.
* Below is an example of Kyle Yate’s sharp shooting on the courts. He is partnered with Wes Gabrielsen for a gold medal performance in last year’s US Nationals….It’s great action from all the guys!
2015.11.09 – Yates,Kyle -Gabrielsen, Wesley vs Kern,Aspen -Staub,Matt MD 19+ Final
Up next is the interview with Gigi LeMaster, a lady I have never met, but someone I think of as a friend because of the profile I did with her in the Feb 19th edition of my newsletter….She has an endearing effect on the people who have contact with her–even if it just by email!
1. Hi Gigi, who or what, started the ”ball rolling” between Dee Davison and you to get the concept of a major event going in your area of AZ?
GLM – Having a prize money tournament was the sole idea of my husband John. I was running tournaments and playing in a lot of events all over the States and I would come home with ideas of wanting to do something different.
My husband told me: ”Why don’t you put on a tournament where you pay out all the money you take in?”
That’s exactly what I was looking for! The sport is growing in so many ways and with TOC (Tournament of Champions) setting the example, I wanted my tournament to be one of the prize money tournaments. Dee and I have similar interests so I asked her if she was interested in this project. It grew from wanting a prize money tournament to a tournament that set precedents in many ways. We pay our referees, desk team, referee coordinators and first aid people.
Everybody gets a piece of the pie. We pay out to ALL levels which sets us apart from other tournaments as well. We are a skill level only tournament, no age, and still draw over 300 players, which is unheard of. I am proud to have some of the best players in the world come to compete. Of course, we couldn’t do this without the support of our generous sponsors.
2. When was the inaugural tournament, and how did you do in your matches?
GLM – April 2015 was the inaugural tournament. It was a huge success! My partner and I won the gold in mixed doubles and silver in the women’s doubles. It was pretty rewarding to get a medal in my own tournament….. (Gigi’s partners were Enrique Ruiz and Heidi Hancock)
3. I see you’re going to be matched up with Dave Weinbach in the mixed category this time….Have you played with him before?
GLM – Dave and I have known each other for a few years, from before he became a big Pickleball celebrity:-) He was visiting his dad in Surprise during the holidays and would play pickleball. He thought it was a funny game, didn’t take it too seriously, yet he would beat most of the better players–all the while laughing, joking, ‘badgering’ the players….Hence his nickname ‘The Badger’. At least that is my story and I’m sticking to it:-)
Don’t let him tell you it’s because he’s from Wisconsin. Lol…We hit it off right away but we never played in a tournament. So, when the opportunity presented itself for us to play together, I happily agreed!
4. I re-watched your finals with Sarah Ansboury from the Nationals VII the other night. I enjoyed seeing every shot….You have a wonderful skill…I think you must be the best finesse player in the world.
GLM – Thank you! That is quite a compliment for the Queen of The Dink!
5. I am interested in how things are going with you in general. I know you have a good philosophy of life, so I visualize you as ‘well and good’.
GLM – All is well, I’m hard at work every day with preparations for my tournament coming up April 8-9-10. As well as lessons, clinics, refereeing and playing in tournaments.
I look forward to setting sail to my homeland after the US Open in Naples….My husband and I will board the ship for our transatlantic crossing to spend some much needed quality time with each other and my family. We fly back on the 27th of June and I will hop on a plane for Kelowna on July 2nd. Busy!!!
While in Europe, I will be playing in my first European Pickleball tournament in Amsterdam. That should be fun…
So nice talking to you Doug. Sorry to keep rambling. Hope I answered your questions sufficiently. Always a pleasure hearing from you.
All my best,
* I thought that would be the end of my correspondence with Gigi concerning the coming event. However, I sent her a note saying how I thought of the tournament as a ‘Surprise Party’–even though I knew it was to take place in nearby Sun City….Gigi sent the following reply:
GLM – There is no possibility to grow in Surprise because we are limited to 8 courts. The venue in Sun City has 20 courts.
Again, interesting little fact…I was refereeing in the Spring Slam at Sun City last year about 10 days before our big inaugural event. It happened to be really hot for that time of year, I was literally and figuratively sweating it thinking of our tournament coming soon and the temperature only rising! The other venue has only 8 courts, no shade, no chairs…So while I was reffing standing in the shade of the newly built covered courts at Sun City I reached for my phone, called Dee, and told her what I was thinking. She immediately dropped everything, came to the venue, looked around and agreed that we should grab the opportunity of having our tournament at Sun City…..Plenty of room to grow, great covered courts as well as vendor spaces and a beautiful outside rest area.
A lot of hard work, since it’s just the two of us, but we made it happen!
* Thanks Gigi, you write in a colourful fashion. I like hearing about your pb adventures….. My readers may be interested to know who Gigi will be teaming up with in women’s doubles this weekend–star pickleballer Jennifer Lucore!
* The Pickleball Show has a 2 part podcast with Gigi LeMaster in their Feb 15 and 22nd archived broadcasts. This is their site address: pickleballx.com
This is a short video from the Grand Canyon State Games. We get to hear from Gigi LeMaster and her shy, shrinking-violet friend–Dave (The Badger) Weinbach:-)
One of Gigi LeMaster’s most successful partnerships was with Enrique Ruiz (El Condor). This video is from their gold medal winning match against the team of Matthew Blom and Alex Hamner at the 2014 US Nationals.
* Gigi LeMaster and her husband John did some work with Pickleball Belgium last year. You can read about Gigi’s childhood experiences growing up in Belgium in the Feb 19th edition of CC.
* When Gigi flies into Kelowna, B.C. this summer, she will be putting on a teaching clinic and retreat with Sarah Ansboury! ….For more info. go to: pickleballgo.com
* I will have a bit of a wrap next week and let you know what I hear about the action from the LMD tournament…. After that I will be doing interviews with some of the players that will be competing in the US Open at the end of April. I’ll give you a hint next week as to who will be featured first…. I guarantee you will not want to miss one of these coming player profiles!
‘Till then, thanks for the game,