Pickleball Points: Who plays pickleball?

For those of us who are passionate about pickleball played at a very high performance level, we don’t appreciate the unfair stigma sometimes mouthed by the ill-informed who think it is a sport only for old people. So, this week, I thought I might point out to readers some backgrounds of various players who have recently excelled at pickleball.

Here are four you don’t want to call old!

The team of Chic Stearrett and Jeff Marshall have gotten everyone’s attention this spring.

The 61-year-old Stearrett, a college and semi-pro baseball player, relocated four years ago to Ocean View from Wilmington, where he had been a tech service engineer for DuPont. In Wilmington, he was Delaware racquetball champion in both singles and doubles. Chic, an avid hunter, started playing pickleball one year ago and recently took a silver medal at the First State Pickleball Club’s Beach Blast, which had a serious field of competitors.

His partner, the 59-year-old Jeff Marshall, grew up in Philadelphia, where he played organized soccer and fast-pitch softball, ran track and was on a league volleyball team that took home the championship trophy 16 years in a row. He purchased a home in South Bethany in 1993, and when he retired in 2016, after 37 years from the electrical construction business, moved here permanently. Besides his passion for fishing and boating, Jeff started to play pickleball two years ago.

In the Beach Blast, Chic and Jeff lost the gold medal to Brett Stonesifer and Kevin Reading in a match that begged respect from the entire pickleball community.

The 56-year-old Stonesifer played an entire assortment of sports as he followed his parents to 15 relocations around the globe, and then used his geology degree from the University of Michigan to work for Exxon. After departing the oil giant, he purchased a small service business in Maryland. Then, in 2016, Brett moved to Fenwick Island and started to play pickleball. After just 18 months, his gold medal was a stunning performance.

Batting clean-up is 58-year-old Kevin Reading, Stonesifer’s doubles partner. Kevin is best known for his love of the culinary arts, having hit a series of restaurant home runs since attending the Philadelphia Restaurant School. First, it was his Fox Point Grill in Wilmington, and then Espuma and Nage in Rehoboth. There is not enough printer’s ink to spell out his entire batting record of restaurant successes, but these days he hangs his cap at Abbott’s Grill in Milford.

For sports, Reading was a 1980 Golden Gloves boxer and played racquetball. He has been playing pickleball only a short time. His footwork is outstanding, and he hits a pickleball like a boxer punches an opponent: early, fast, and again and again. He turns a pickleball back into a warm lump of plastic.

There are many more stories like this in our pickleball community, but I thought these four, having recently battled each other toe to toe just outside the kitchen (pun intended), for a gold and silver, were representative of the point I wanted to make.

Pickleball is a sport for vibrant athletic folks, and also for people who just want to have fun, meet people and live longer to hit more pickleballs. One lady who had a very nice pickleball game told me she had never played any prior sport because she was always too busy raising a family. Now that she has retired and moved to the coastal beaches, she simply enjoys meeting new people and playing pickleball.

Speaking of the fun aspect of pickleball: I don’t want to discount the group of 30 at Bethany West, another 20 at SeaGrass or those 35 at Bishops Landing, as well as the 50 who drove to play at Ocean City’s Northside Park.

At Forest Landing, Jeff Bagaglio reported they now have 40 folks playing pickleball, and besides fun, he mentioned that pickleball has had a positive impact on the physical well-being of members of his community. Although they all told me they all just wanted to have fun, they are definitely getting noticeably better.

There is absolutely no doubt that the Coastal Community Fun League is a major success. Once again I congratulate the talented team captains.

So you want to be in the sports business?

I mentioned in the last lesson that I had hoped to see 007 in Monte Carlo. I had taken the early train from Paris and arrived late afternoon in Monte Carlo. Afterwards, I checked into my hotel and took a relaxed walk around that stunning town. The next morning, after a delightful jog, I found my way over to the tennis club and hung around to get the ebb and flow.

Just before lunch, I asked to meet the manager. Bingo! I was escorted into the manager’s office and discovered he spoke wonderful English. I explained I worked for Wilson Sporting Goods and my mandate was to introduce the Wilson brand into Europe. I went on to explain that I was very impressed with this beautiful club, and thought it almost lived up to its billing as the best and most glamorous tennis club in the world.

“Almost?” he asked.

“Almost” I said.

It wasn’t a sales ploy on my part, just an honest opinion. We looked at each other for over a minute, and I started to sense he had pushed a secret button and the manager of the pool was likely coming into his office to toss me into the Mediterranean Sea. But, no, he finally very graciously asked how he could make it the best club in the world.

I explained that, logically, no club could make that claim without having Wilson tennis balls available, since Wilson outsold all other brands combined, and tennis players expected them.

The next time I would visit the Monte Carlo Tennis Club, the manager and I embraced, and he told me he wanted me to see something. We walked into the merchandise area, and one entire wall of his tennis shop was composed totally of Wilson tennis balls. He explained that he loved to tell the story about my initial visit.

As big companies often do, Wilson wanted me to return to America and launch a new racket sport, racquetball.

I wanted to remain in tennis, and then explained to the manager that things change, and that I had been retained by the entrepreneur Howard Head, the inventor of the large oversized Prince tennis racket. I then I told him I was on a specific mission, and that mission was to get him, the manager of the club, and his regular doubles partner, to play with the new Prince tennis racket. His partner was Rainer III, Prince of Monaco. The Prince actually played better with the Prince.

My next international stop was Italy.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.

By Vaughn Baker
Special to the Coastal Point