Salisbury, Md., a town less than an hour inland, was known in tennis circles as Tennis USA in the 1960s and ’70s. Five years ago, I wrote a book called “Salisbury Tennis — The Camelot Years,” describing that incredible period.
To prove that it wasn’t just local lore, when I entered the indoor sports arena in Germany in the mid-’70s before a Davis Cup match between the United States and Germany, the captain of the United States team recognized me by face from Salisbury and yelled up to me to get my attention “Hey, you — the Salisbury guy!” One of his American players needed some rackets.
Having witnessed and been part of the Tennis USA story, I personally don’t think our better pickleball players should have to travel across America to find quality competition.
I introduced into our Delaware pickleball community some of the same concepts that served us well in tennis, and some of these things we have been doing here have been paying off. We have almost dozen players capable of making a mark nationally, and we will soon have another dozen players challenging them.
Other pickleballers have done a wonderful job creating a fun league among 14 communities for the bulk of pickleballers, and those players are getting noticeably better. Many of the elements that then helped Salisbury with their tennis program are happening now in Delaware’s pickleball community.
Pickleballers are skill-rated from 1.0 to 5.0, and 5.0 is at the top of the pickle pyramid.
It has been said that pickleball ratings are like earthquake scale comparisons — logarithmic. So, following that rule of thumb, a 4.0 is 10 times better than a 3.0, and likewise a 5.0 is 10 times better than a 4.0.
I asked Rick Bell, who advanced this year from a 4.0 to a 4.5, if he subscribed to that equation, and he explained that the players he met this summer in his new classification are indeed better. At 4.5, he suddenly finds himself playing younger and stronger players who have developed new and more difficult shots to overcome.
At the top, one doesn’t have much competition. I had the opportunity recently to interview a 5.0. His name is Chris Riportella, from Lancaster, Pa., and he has recently purchased a house in Delaware at Bishop’s Landing.
Chris is the International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association director who certified our own Rick Bell as Delaware’s first IPTPA Teaching Professional. The IPTPA is the world’s leading organization of certified pickleball teaching professionals. They deliver an ongoing program of workshops, seminars and other learning experiences to raise the standards of pickleball excellence on a worldwide basis.
Chris has been in the process of moving in 2018, but he had some impressive results in 2017, including the 2017 USAPA Atlantic Regional Tournament Men’s 5.0 bronze.
Chris is gainfully employed full-time in Lancaster, managing a large manufacturing company, and has his own pickleball students there that he teaches. However, he has volunteered — especially now that he lives among us — in any way he can, to help us advance our pickleball efforts in Delaware.
I speak for our entire pickleball community when I welcome Chris Riportella to lower Delaware and welcome his assistance in making Delaware another top national pickleball destination.
I was curious what it took Chris to make the journey from beginner to a 5.0 in three and a half years, and wondered if there was a support system around Lancaster that helped him achieve his ranking. Based on our discussion, it seems we are on equal par with them in identifying and working with players and creating competitive environments. It was heartening to think we are on the right track.
As I finish this week’s piece, I can still hear the sounds of pickleballs and laughter reverberating off the walls of the Ocean City (Md.) Indoor Center at Northside Park, where we were treated to some of the most exciting medal play yet to be witnessed in this region.
Our entire pickleball community wants to welcome Pearl Morris back to the winner’s circle. Pearl had us worried because of a particularly difficult and troublesome double knee replacement, but she took gold in Women’s Doubles 55-64 with Diane Milam, as well as Mixed Doubles gold, teaming with Kevin Reading, the man with the chef’s hat.
Three members of our own Ocean View Crew medaled. Playing particularly well, Brett Stonesifer took gold in Men’s Doubles 55-64, teaming with celebrity chef Kevin Reading, and again in the Mixed Doubles Open with his wife, Joanne Stonesifer, her first gold medal.
Meanwhile, Bob Gaudreau and Chic Stearrett took silver, after five very close games in Men’s Doubles 55-64, and Gaudreau, teaming with Diane Milam, took silver in Mixed Doubles 55-64.
Congratulations to all the medalists, as well as those who played their first tournament.
• Gold, Colbert & Colbert
• Silver, Cox & Gross
• Bronze, Stephens & Zimmerman
• Gold, Milam & Morris
• Silver, Walker & Kurtz
• Bronze, Bloodsworth & Lewis
• Gold, Wan & Billger
• Silver, Hahn & Van Shaik
• Bronze, Feinberg & Smith
• Gold, Bell & Smith
• Silver, Southard & Pinto
• Bronze, Davis & Sullivan
• Gold, Reading & Stonesifer
• Silver, Gaudreau & Stearrett
• Bronze, Davis & Barnes
• Gold, Tomb & Creamer
• Silver, Kurtz & Gottesman
• Bronze, Kurtz & Gottesman
Mixed Doubles Open
• Gold, Stonesifer & Stonesifer
• Silver, Garraffa & Smith
• Bronze, Stephans & Herman
Mixed Doubles 55-64
• Gold, Morris & Reading
• Silver, Milam & Gaudreau
• Bronze, Wan & Bell
Mixed Doubles 65+
• Gold, Van Shaik & Lindsey
• Silver, Billger & Alexander
• Bronze, Bradshaw & Barnes
Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.
By Vaughn Baker
Special to the Coastal Point