After-school enrichment: ACE Athletics completes 2nd year of pickleball | Sports
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Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in America.
During the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, when traditionally higher-contact indoor sports were restricted due to health guidelines, pickleball grew in popularity.
The After Class Enrichment Napa Valley program has begun offering pickleball to give local middle school students a chance to return to their activities safely. Pickleball is a low physical contact sport that is a combination of tennis, table tennis, and badminton played on a 40-by-20-foot court with sturdy rackets and perforated plastic balls similar to wiffle balls.
ACE Athletics is a Napa County Office of Education program in its 10th year serving middle school students in the Napa Valley Unified School District. Each year, the ACE program serves more than 1,000 students.
ACE completed his second year of pickleball on Feb. 18 at Redwood Middle School. More than 100 students from Harvest, Redwood, River and Silverado Middle Schools participated. The pickleball program was made possible by a grant from the Olympic Club Foundation, in conjunction with local business sponsor Hello Ortho, and in partnership with the Napa Valley Unified School District. Four round robin tournaments led to the boys’ and girls’ championship tournaments.
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The boys’ pickleball tournament ended with Redwood players Ben Waters and Riley Youngblood taking first place.
In second place were Ryder Fata and Dean Wagner from Redwood, followed by returning player Secondo Montecelli and playing partner Cole Beaver from Silverado.
The girls’ final consisted of one team from each participating college. Several teams experienced adversity when their partners could not qualify for the final competition.
Zaidie Binder and Melanie Alvarez, representing Redwood, teamed up for the first time in the final tournament and made it all the way to the consolation championship.
Silverado’s Anna Tompkins, runner-up last season, was able to return this year with partner Leah Polakiewiez to claim the top spot. River’s Kaya Prosser and Emerson Trette finished second in an incredible match. Harvest’s Janine Terrones and Diane Perez finished the tournament in third place.
“This pickleball season has been a very welcoming environment that encourages kids to play sports they normally wouldn’t have access to,” said Randi Golding, River’s athletic director and physical education teacher.
The ACE Athletics program prides itself on creating an inclusive and safe learning environment for all students who have chosen to participate in sports. Coaches are encouraged to teach not only the rules and fundamentals of the game, but also how to be good teammates and become more confident.
“My daughter made new friends and challenged herself to do something she had never tried before,” said a pickleball parent from River. “The coaches supported and encouraged her even as she was learning to play. It boosted her confidence level tremendously.
According to a parent survey, ACE Pickleball coaches have done a fantastic job teaching their students the fundamentals and rules of pickleball. In a post-season survey, 100% of parents agreed that their students’ skills improved throughout the season. The coaches also loved teaching the sport.
“Pickleball is a very addictive sport,” said Silverado athletic director Paul Manuzon. “You’ll always have fun playing it because it’s so fast. Students can arrive with minimal experience and get on board quickly. It has been fun learning and teaching a new sport as well as building positive relationships with my players.
All students who register with ACE Athletics have an equal opportunity to play and participate. No discounts are made, allowing students who may not have previously had access to sports a fair and equal opportunity to receive program benefits.
ACE began offering pickleball due to constraints placed on youth sports by public health guidelines and the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2021, the ACE track and field team, Golding College athletic directors Susy Recchebong of Harvest and Sydney Bergin of Redwood, and former Silverado athletic director Tracey Emberely decided on the best way to ensure safety. students, following public health guidelines and engaging in physical activity was to develop a pickleball program.
Initial practices for the program took place on NVUSD college campuses. The district was able to scratch several pickleball courts for students to practice, and games were held on Napa Valley College’s tennis courts.
In the first season, balls were sanitized between games, everyone had temperature checks and spectators were limited. In the second season, with less restrictive guidelines, games moved to NVUSD college gyms.
Although pickleball is not a sport traditionally offered in high school, the rapid growth and low barrier to entry may change that. The learning curve is much less steep than for tennis, and as the infrastructure catches up in popularity, courts are being installed across the country.
In Napa County, there are now dedicated courts in Yountville and the Las Flores Community Center in Napa. Ease of access is why ACE chose this sport. The mission of ACE Athletics is to provide all students with access to sport and to help develop skills and abilities to be confident in participating in physical activity. Students are not hampered by barriers to access such as the cost of equipment, transportation, and high program fees. Participation in any ACE sport is only $30, with unlimited purses.
The next offering from the ACE Athletics program is futsal, another sport not traditionally offered by high schools, followed by a busy spring season of soccer and basketball for girls and boys.
ACE thanks pickleball sponsors and partners Hello Ortho, The Olympic Club Foundation, NCOE and NVUSD.
ACE is currently looking to hire coaches for its upcoming seasons, as well as high school students for its mentorship program. There are openings for boys and girls soccer and boys and girls basketball.
All mentors are eligible for a $250 bursary at the end of each training season.
Contact Kayla Blair, ACE Athletics Outreach Supervisor at [email protected], for more information.
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