• Tim Pitts

Special Pops -v- Mother Nature

Einar Andersen (Photo: George Schminke)

It seems Mother Nature has a problem with the annual Landings Club Special Pops tournament. Exactly what the problem is remains a mystery, as old Ma Nature ain’t talking. Whatever it is, it stems back to the 2020 tournament, which was sidelined due to COVID. The 2021 tournament was cancelled due to rain. The same thing happened two weekends ago as approximately half of the tournament was scratched. Again, it was the rain what done it in.

Make no mistake, this was a disappointment for The Landings Club and the multitudes of pickleball zealots who traveled, in some cases, long distances to be a part of the tournament. According to tournament director, Elison McAllaster, 361 registrants from fifteen states and Canada descended on The Landings ready to engage in convivial court combat. Of those 361, nearly a third were Landings Club members. The weekend was not a total washout however, as those who did play treated spectators to some very exciting pickleball.

The Landings Club has been hosting the Special Pops tournament, which has raised funds in support of approximately eighty Special Pops athletes from the ages of fifteen to over sixty-five, since 2010. All proceeds are used for a variety of athletic programs for local intellectually challenged adults. While it originally started as a tennis event, it has been a pickleball-only tournament since 2017.

The tournament is played over three days. Seventy-four women’s teams played on Friday, eighty-five mixed doubles teams were scheduled on Saturday, and sixty-five men’s teams planned to battle it out on Sunday. Each day players were divided according to age and skill level. While Mother Nature cooperated on Friday, she was not as accommodating on Saturday and Sunday when rain and wet courts caused delays and ultimately cancellations.

Linda Rakosi, Vanessa Marin (Photo: George Schminke)

The Landings Club teams did extremely well overall, winning eight gold medals and three each of silver and bronze. The fifty-eight volunteers who helped with everything from check-ins to managing bracket play and awarding hard won medals were key to the event’s success. As they do with all pickleball events, our dedicated court sport professionals Chris Kader and Alex Fox, and the entire Franklin Creek Staff, went to great lengths to make sure the tournament was a success. They can’t, however, be expected to tame Mother Nature’s untimely tantrums.

According to Elison McAllaster, the long-term goal of the Special Pops Pickleball program is to see pickleball included in the Special Olympics. After four years of preparation, eleven of our special needs players traveled to Hilton Head in October to play exhibition matches in the Special Olympics Tennis Tournament. It is not a process that can happen overnight as some existing rules will have to be adapted to accommodate special needs players, but sentiment seems to favor including pickleball in the Special Olympics in the near future.

All in all, despite Mother Nature, the Special Pops pickleball tournament is yet another terrific way that The Landings Club supports our local community. Many thanks to all who participated as contestants, volunteers and spectators. Here’s to a rain free tournament in 2023.