One cannot start the game of pickleball without saying zero, zero, start, and if you’re around Jim Ludwig, you better utter those words with the accent of a born Bostonian, just like him.
Pickleball For All was organized and founded by Executive Director Ludwig, 61, with the goal of bringing the sport to Collier County schools.
The necessary funds were unavailable to schools wanting to purchase equipment for students to use and participate in the booming sport.
“As a nonprofit in Collier County we aim to equip all schools with the equipment and facilities/courts to play this sport,” Ludwig said in an email.
Ludwig wants this sport to last, and he feels it is necessary to make it relevant to the youth of today.
“Pickleball is something that brings them together as a team, gets them playing with each other, interacting with one another, encouraging each other, giving each other supportive comments and laughing when everybody makes the same mistake,” said Paige Mitschele, 47, Leadership Gifts Officer of PFA.
Ludwig was introduced to the sport in 2011 by Mitschele (pronounced Michelle). Both Ludwig and Mitschele belonged to Lakewood Country Club of Naples.
“Everyone that played golf was forced to walk by the courts, so we harassed everyone,” Mitschele said. “Jim would walk by with his golf clubs, and we would often – everyone would wave to everyone walking by on their way to the pool – come, please try it. Just really enthusiastic about getting people involved because of how much fun we were having, and socially, it just caught on like wildfire.”
The sport is not widely accepted at first sight, but there is some type of gravitational pull that is leading individuals like Ludwig and Mitschele to take a paddle into their own hands and become ambassadors for the sport.
“Honestly, I know so many players that as soon as they’ve picked up a paddle and played a couple of points, they’re sold,” Mitschele said. “And we are hoping that this crosses over, that the same kind of feeling happens with them [students]. And then they start to ask for the nets and for the equipment and for this to be part of their P.E. course.”
Ludwig is putting in great effort to have this sport become a great realization for the youth of today. When he visits places like AMIKids and David Lawrence Center where he introduces the game, he has a hard time leaving these places with his own paddles, nets and pickleballs.
“I personally left equipment at these facilities and donated equipment to the Avalon Elementary School in East Naples.”
The sport is currently one of the most popular activities among baby boomers and older generations, who already live and are flocking to Naples to retire. The sport is keeping this generation active, and it is giving the people confidence to have fun in its engaging environment.
“Justin  he is legally blind, and he plays every day,” Ludwig said. “And this guy, he lost 40 pounds playing pickleball.”
The best part about the sport seems to be the ability for all ages to connect and have a competitive atmosphere exist in the sport no matter what level you are playing.
“We were playing with high school kids last night, boys; they loved it,” said Carol Caefer, 61, the assistant director of PFA. “First time, they didn’t even need a lesson when we put them on the courts.”
East Naples will play host to the “largest pickleball tournament ever held in the world,” Ludwig said. It starts April 26 to May 1, 2016. It’s the USA Pickleball Association’s US Open Pickleball 2016 Championship, which will be held in Naples for the next three years.
Visit USOpenPickleballChampionship.com for further details about the event.
Southern Tropics is an organization that has similar goals as PFA, and its president is yours truly, Jim Ludwig, who will be hosting a pickleball tournament February 26 to 28, 2016 at East Naples Community Park, the US Open venue.
To learn more about the tournament visit pickleballtournaments.com. Funds for the Southern Tropics and its events go toward PFA.
Contact Nancy Robertson, director of development of PFA, for further information about the tournament.
Pickleball For All Corporation is a non-profit 501 (c)(3), and it is just getting started. Donations can be made at its website, http://www.pickleballforall.org/donate/. Like and follow the organization on both Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Contact Ludwig, email@example.com, for further information about events and pickleball.
“We need to get the younger generation into the sport, and that is why I created Pickleball For All,” he said.
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