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Good competition highlights popular pickleball tournament for West Sound Senior Games.

BREMERTON — Competition doesn’t leave an athletes heart just because their head has more gray hairs and the recovery process is longer. 

The competitiveness that lives in all athletes was apparent on the first day of a two-day pickleball tournament during Bremerton’s West Sound Senior Games at Sheridan Park Community Center on Friday.

Fran Conn, left, of Gig Harbor, and Madeline Fraley, of Port Orchard, play during the Bremerton West Sound Senior Games pickleball tournament Friday, July 12, 2019, at Sheridan Park Community Center in Bremerton. (Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

Pickleball is one of the most popular athletic events for seniors. The sport, which combines aspects of badminton, tennis and table tennis (ping pong) and was first played on Bainbridge Island in 1965, is an easy one to learn. And while it’s a great sport for beginners, it also gives experienced players a challenge as the game can quickly develop into a fast-paced match.

Madeline Fray of Port Orchard started playing the sport when she and her husband were camping and the campground was hosting a tournament. Fray and playing partner Fran Conn of Gig Harbor earned a gold medal in their age division this year and enjoy the overall camaraderie in the sport.

“It’s addictive,” Conn said. “What’s joyful about it is everyone laughs, I think. Until they get too serious.”

Doug Soule of Olalla and doubles partner Greg Jacobson of Allyn, teamed up for the first time on Friday. The pair won the gold medal in their division and then went on to play in the “overall” tournament semifinals. Senior Games pickleball commissioner Kitty Campagna, who also plays in the tournament, runs a side tournament to give players additional playing time. Bob Rester of Sequim and Richard Reed of Port Angeles won the fictional “Championship of the World.”

Greg Jacobson of Allyn, second from left, and Doug Soule of Olalla, third from left, are congratulated by opponents Kevin King, left, and Jeff Blackstock, right, during the Bremerton West Sound Senior Games pickleball tournament Friday, July 12, 2019, at Sheridan Park Community Center in Bremerton. (Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

“It’s the fastest growing sport in the United States, according to what I’ve read,” Campagna said. “Including Andy Roddick is now a spokesperson for it. Tennis people are playing it as well.”

One of the benefits of pickleball is that it doesn’t rely on an overhand serve to overpower opponents. An underhand serve is used and then it becomes a chess match of skill, ball placement and power. 

Jacobson and Soule agreed it was a challenge to learn each others nuances but found it to be fun.

“Considering this is the first time we’ve ever played together, we’re doing well,” Soule said.

“We’ve got some lucky breaks,” Jacobson added. 

Colleen Alger, left, and doubles partner Mandy Rankin both react to the pickleball during the Bremerton West Sound Senior Games pickleball tournament Friday, July 12, 2019, at Sheridan Park Community Center in Bremerton. (Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

Campagna said the tournament had about 40 registrants, a slight dip from last year, but still enough players to warrant a two-day tournament. Mixed doubles begins Saturday. 

Jacobson, a former tennis player, said making the adjustment to pickleball was simple and the sport is easier on his legs.

“You can get a great workout and it’s not hard on the joints,” he said. “It’s not like in basketball where you do the cutting … and getting the pounding on the knees.”

Soule played racquetball and ping pong before taking up pickleball.

“I saw the game being played and thought, ‘boy that looks like fun,’ and the walls are getting really hard in that racquetball court,” he said, adding when he decided to try pickleball “I knew that it was for me.”

So much so, Soule will be heading to Thailand in the fall for a diving excursion and plans on bringing his paddle so he can play with the club in Chiang Mai. 

Campagna said that’s not unheard of for pickleball players, who regularly play year round because they winter in Arizona and Florida. 

Soule said the Senior Games tournament is one of the best ones he plays in.

“I like this tournament more than any other,” he said.

Dan Austed of Port Ludlow crosses the finish line in the 12K time trial cycling event during the first day of the Bremerton West Sound Senior Games Wednesday, July 10, 2019, at Big Valley Road in Poulsbo.(Annette Griffus/West Sound Senior Games)

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