A big dill: PickleFest draws local and national pickleball talent

Local pickleball players participate in an open-play session at the Key Recreation Center on May 21, but you can find them practicing somewhere in town, on almost any given day of the week. Photo by Eze Amos Local pickleball players participate in an open-play session at the Key Recreation Center on May 21, but you can find them practicing somewhere in town, on almost any given day of the week. Photo by Eze Amos

While this weekend’s PickleFest may sound like a celebration of brined cucumbers, it’s instead a festival centered around a sport that’s gained a massive following in Charlottesville over the last half a decade.

Pickleball, the paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, was created in Seattle, in 1965, and has been slowly making its way to the eastern side of the United States ever since.

“Unless you’re into pickleball, you might not know it, but people will drive an hour or more to come here to play,” says Teddy Hamilton, president of the Central Virginia Pickleball Club.

The group of about 325 pickleballers from Harrisonburg to Louisa spans all ages and athletic abilities. “It is truly a potpourri of people, and that’s one of the things I like best about it,” Hamilton says.

Her club hosted the Central Virginia Classic with nearly 200 registered pickleball competitors at the Boar’s Head over Memorial Day weekend, but those who missed that tournament will get a second shot at spectating, or even picking up the paddle, this weekend.

U.S. Open gold medalist and SickTrx member Ben Johns. Courtesy photo

PickleFest, founded by local pickleball- and tennis-based company Weigo, kicks off at Glenmore Country Club on Thursday, May 31, with a free exhibition match by a team of pros that includes U.S. Open gold medalists and SickTrx (pronounced “sick tricks”) team members Ben Johns, Kyle Yates, Irina Tereschenko and Brian Ashworth. They’re like the Harlem Globetrotters of pickleball, and best-known for their heavily practiced and entertaining paddlework.

Weigo co-founder Megan Charity, who came to America from South Africa on a tennis scholarship to Kentucky’s Campbellsville University in 2012, also has quite a bit of practice under her belt.

After graduating from Campbellsville, Charity coached multiple tennis teams and played pickleball on the side before moving to Charlottesville in 2016, where she started Weigo with Barrett Worthington, a University of Virginia Darden School of Business alum.

“In tennis, you have to spend months on the court to feel like you’re improving,” Charity says. “In pickleball, you just have to get out there and start playing.”

Worthington and Charity initially imagined an online business that would match tennis players with coaches and organize tournaments and clinics for the sport, but Worthington says it immediately became clear “that pickleball is almost taking over the tennis scene,” and now Weigo supports both sports.

On almost any night of the week year-round, you can find local pickleballers swinging paddles in open-play sessions at the Brooks Family YMCA, ACAC or several other designated spots around town, often playing for five hours at a time.

“You just get sucked in,” says Charity. “That happens to me, too. Sometimes in the summer, they play until three in the morning.”

“She’s not exaggerating,” adds Worthington. “I’ve never seen people so fanatic about anything in my life.”

Join in

You don’t have to play pickleball to relish the experience of PickleFest. Spectators of the Thursday exhibition match and Sunday tournament teams should register online at goweigo.com or contact barrett.worthington@gmail.com.

May 31: Free exhibition match by SickTrx, at 6:30pm at the Glenmore Country Club. Followed by a meet and greet with the pros (ticket required).

June 1-2: Sold-out pickleball camps.

June 3: PickleFest Classic starts at 8am at the Glenmore Country Club. Open to the public to play or watch, with free cider tastings, food and music.

The time of the May 31 exhibition match was corrected on May 29 at 10:30am.

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