Steamboat Classic quadruples in size, brings in best player in the world
The Inaugural Steamboat Classic Pickleball Tournament took place in 2019, drawing a small but passionate crowd of picklers. After skipping 2020 due to the pandemic, the tournament is back and much bigger. This year, 300 pickleball players filled up the brackets in a few short weeks, selling out the second installment of the tournament, which will take place July 9-11.
The event is drawing so many interested players that the Steamboat Tennis and Pickleball Center has had to turn down participants. Tournament Director Don Siegel said the growth of the tournament is on track with the growth of the sport nationwide.
“Unquestionably, the sport of pickleball has continued to have extraordinary increases every quarter,” Siegel said. “Two years ago, I think they were playing around with about 2 million players in the country, and now we’re over 4 million.”
Players from 29 states will partake in the tournament, which features three age groups and half-point increment skill levels from 3.0 to 5.0. The most exciting part of the weekend will be the attendance of Ben Johns, who is the best pickleball player in the world right now.
Johns will teach some clinics, which are free and sold out, but outside so people can spectate or park themselves nearby to listen to what the pro has to say. Johns will be joined by Dekel Bar, who is ranked No. 4 in the world right now.
“It’s not everyday you can learn from or watch the best player in the world,” said Siegel of Johns. “It’s entertaining to listen to this guy. He’s got it down, and he’s a good instructor.”
The only potential downfall of the tournament is the fact it occurs on a busy weekend with Balloon Rodeo and Art in the Park. Parking could be tricky, so the tournament officials are asking participants and spectators to carpool, ride the free bus, bike or walk to the center.
Siegel, who is also the Director of Rocky Mountain Pickleball, said the Steamboat Classic is the first installment of a mountain region series that will eventually include the Vail Open and the Aspen Open.
As the Rocky Mountain region goes, Steamboat is one of the most popular and fastest growing pickleball destinations.
“It’s probably, if not the top, certainly one of the top mountain town pickleball communities and one of the strongest,” Siegel said.
Loretta Conway, executive director of Court Sports 4 Life, the nonprofit that runs the Tennis and Pickleball Center, hopes Steamboat stays off the top of the list of pickleball destinations.
“I don’t know if we ever want to get super big,” she said. “I think I’d rather stay small to medium and have a really quality tournament and have people enjoy their time here.”
She said there’s already so many summer events, there’s no need to bog down Steamboat any further with larger tournaments. She does hope the enthusiasm from this tournament will encourage people to return to Steamboat in mud season when the center will host another tournament, what used to be called the Denise Pearson Memorial Tournament.
Update on Pickleball Center
Eventually, tournaments could be larger at Steamboat when the proposed Pickleball Center is built. The nonprofit in charge, Court Sports 4 Life, was given the go-ahead to start fundraising by the city and can break ground when they have 70% of the funds needed to build the facility. As of this week, $1.7 million has been raised.
“I want to break ground next summer if we can keep on this fundraising streak we’re on,” Conway said. “We’re optimistic we can make this happen.”
The Steamboat Tennis and Pickleball Center had its best revenue ever in 2020, despite being closed for nine weeks. Halfway through this year, 2021 is on pace to be even more successful, perhaps by 20%, bolstering Conway’s confidence that the city will have a brand new pickleball center in a few years.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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