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Community members play in Fort Drum FMWR’s first pickleball tournament Feb. 17 inside Magrath Sports Complex. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

FMWR Sports hosts its first pickleball tourney

Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 21, 2023) – Although the sport of pickleball dates back to 1965, it has experienced a surge in popularity in the past few years.

Hoping to seize on the trend, the Fort Drum Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation’s Sports, Fitness and Aquatics (SFA) staff hosted their first pickleball tournament Feb. 17 inside Magrath Sports Complex.

Several community members participated in the double-elimination singles contest, with Austin Perez, assigned to 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, claiming the first tourney win on post.

“I really appreciated the opportunity to come out here, play hard and have some fun,” he said. “Growing up, I became really competitive, and I love sports. This was something I wanted to try out and see what I could do.”

Perez said that he played a little pickleball while in high school, but he doesn’t have a lot of experience with the sport.

“I got back from deployment, and I wanted to enjoy some of the extracurriculars that Fort Drum has to offer,” he said. “I know Fort Drum has a lot to offer, and I want to give a shout out to FMWR and the BOSS (Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers) for everything they provide Soldiers, because they really care.”

For those unfamiliar with pickleball, it is best described as a combination of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. It can be played indoors or outdoors with a low net that is roughly thigh high, and a hollow plastic wiffle ball and a paddle.

Pickleball comes with its own unique set of rules, such as players can only serve underhand, and points are made on serves. Cole Sullivan, SFA sports assistant, said that it’s simple enough that most people can learn how to play after a short time on the court.

“What’s surprising to me is that nearly everyone playing in the tournament had said they never played before,” he said. “You can’t tell that from watching them – they all look really good out there.”

Jacq Fitzgerald said that her father recently picked up the sport, and so she and her siblings like to play as a family.

“It’s a nice social activity,” Fitzgerald said. “I like sports in general, so I thought this was something I could get into. It’s much like tennis, but on a smaller court.”

Fitzgerald said that she probably would have played in the tournament with her husband, but he is training with his unit at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, Louisiana. Instead, she recruited his best friend, Tim Flynn, to play.

Flynn had never played pickleball before, but it didn’t take long for him to begin tallying up points against his opponents.

“I’ve seen videos of pickleball, and it looked fun, but I didn’t really know how it worked until now,” he said. “It’s actually a lot of fun.”

Flynn said that he liked how the playing area is smaller than tennis, which sometimes resulted in some intense volleys.

Aly Thibodeaux, SFA supervisory recreation assistant, also participated in the tournament.

“I like ping pong, but I don’t like tennis. Pickleball is like a good blend of both sports that I thought was really fun,” she said.

Thibodeaux said that another tournament will be scheduled later in the year, possibly an outdoors event. In the meantime, FWMR patrons can sign out the equipment at the Magrath Sports Complex front desk.

To learn more about the SFA program and other FMWR activities, visit www.facebook.com/DrumFMWR/.