Pickleball Points: Never underestimate your competition, and don’t get pickled

Before we dive too deeply into instruction, I want to caution you to think more carefully about your opponents.

Never ever underestimate opponents! Once I played some fellow in the National Interscholastic Tennis Championships, comprising the best high school students in the country. This guy could not hit a backhand. In fact, he couldn’t hit a forehand properly. He won every match and every important junior tournament in the country that year, before going off to college and getting a 4.0 in engineering.

He was a logical fellow and had taken time to analyze his strengths and weaknesses and adapted his game to them — despite everyone telling him he was doing it wrong.

As usual, I thought a real-life story might better drive the point home.

This is the time of year I like to take day-trips to explore this incredibly interesting Delmarva Peninsula. I drove down to the Eastern Shore of Virginia recently, and as I passed Folly Creek in Accomack County, was reminded of a historical event that took place there.

In 1779, an unsavory group of pirates from the ship the Thistle Tender, a Bermudian-built sloop, which was hired out, in today’s parlance, as a subcontractor to the English navy, rowed up the creek and attacked one of George Washington’s favorite fighting officers, who was on leave from the Revolutionary War. His name was Gen. John Cropper Jr.

Cropper was no fancy-pants and commanded the regiment of the famous Daniel Morgan in his absence. Virginia officers from the western shore jealously looked down their nose at Cropper because he chose to wear practical buckskins, rather than the latest silk britches from London.

The pirates surrounded and attacked in the middle of the night, catching Cropper, his wife and their infant daughter asleep in bed. The pirates tied them up and started to ransack their home on Folly Creek. It wasn’t long before the soldiers found the wine cellar and decided to partake, before burning his home and returning to their ship with their hostage, Cropper.

Managing to free himself, Cropper slipped out of the house and ran more than two miles in the night to his neighbor. The neighbor wasn’t about to take on the marauders but did loan Cropper several of his muskets. When Cropper returned, he fixed the muskets to trees at different locations so that he might fire one, and run to the next and fire it to create the illusion of a larger military unit.

So the story goes, Cropper then yelled, “Come on, boys — we have them surrounded,” and started to fire the muskets one after the other. The pickled British soldiers, falling for the trick, stumbled back to row out to the Thistle Tender.

You can learn more about Cropper at the Ker House Museum in Accomack, or the Nabb Research Center at Salisbury University.

Did Cropper play pickleball? No, but I bet he would have been top-notch. Daniel Morgan’s riflemen used to put on shooting exhibitions to raise money for their own unit and reportedly could hit a 7-inch target at 250 yards, on the move.

Never underestimate your competition. This is a piece of advice in pickleball so obvious that it is frequently ignored. But sports is littered with examples of the favorite losing to a competitor they underestimated.

In pickleball, we might say that Cropper put his paddle down on the court and took a one-minute break. When play resumed, Cropper mustered the local militia and they surreptitiously placed small 4-pound guns on Parramore and Cedar Islands, and laid in wait for the Thistle Tender to expose herself. When she did, they sunk her with all hands onboard.

What’s the pickleball lesson? Had the pirates stayed on plan, refused to get pickled and not taken Copper so lightly, perhaps the outcome of the Revolutionary War would have been different, the Thistle Tender would not have become a underwater fisherman’s wreck, and the pirates might have returned to their families. Never underestimate the competition!

Notices and updates:

• First State Pickleball Club announced this past Monday their registration for the annual Beach Blast for May 18 and 19, to be played at the Kent County Recreational Center near Dover. Players can sign up at pickleballtournaments.com.

• Sunday pickleball indoors at Sea Colony — Attendance has been growing this first year and maxed out this past week. Sessions will be available for sign-up for play on Feb. 24 and every Sunday of the winter season afterwards. Play is from 1 to 4 on Sunday afternoons. Reservations and payments can be made by calling the Sea Colony Tennis Center at (302) 539-4488. All levels of play are welcome.

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