Paddling for the turtles

Port St. Joe pickleball tournament a hit

Held between March 14 and 17 at Frank Pate Park, the tourney drew 170 players, 60 more than last year, from throughout the Panhandle, including snowbirds from as far as Georgia, Maryland, Maine, Arkansas, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Thanks to a robust number of business and individual sponsorships, player fees, merchandise sales, raffles and drawings, organizers will soon be handing over a check for more than $20,000, about $8,000 more than last year, to the Florida Coastal Conservancy’s Forgotten Coast Sea Turtle Center in Port St. Joe.

“Everybody loved it and they’ve been loving it for four years,” said Susan Hudlow, tournament director. “They can’t wait to come back.”

Next year’s tourney is slated for the middle of February, and is expected to be on two additional six courts set for construction at Frank Pate Park.

“We’ll be adding singles divisions, and we’re expecting over 200 players next year,” Hudlow said. “We’re looking forward to a lot more sponsors at higher dollar amounts.”

She said one enhancement to this year’s tourney was the addition of three USA Pickleball certified referees, led by Bay County’s Norman Clinkscales, who last week could be seen on television refereeing a championship in North Carolina on the professional tour.

“For a lot of folks this was their first time playing and they loved it,” Hudlow said. “They learned this is the way the pros do it.”

She said the tourney drew about 150 spectators each day, with players competing in anywhere from six to 16 games each day.

While there were many exciting matches, Hudlow said that watching John Dohogne and his teammate win the age 50 and older Mens Doubles, and his taking a silver in the Mixed Doubles, were among the best, as Dohogne is eyeing competing as a senior professional.