Sure Shot Pickleball hosts first state high school tournament in Naperville

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“It’s amazing to see some of these kids and how good they are. I thought I was decent, but I tell you, there’s a bunch of these kids who can kick my butt out there,” said Sure Shot Pickleball Co-Owner Tim Kelly. 

Sure Shot Pickleball in Naperville hosted its inaugural high school tournament. 48 kids from around the state of Illinois competed on 24 teams with a chance to show off their talents on the pickleball courts. Pickleball is not an IHSA sport, but it has been one of the fast-growing sports in the Naperville and Chicagoland area, with outdoor and indoor courts opening at a rapid pace in recent years. Naperville Central and North have club teams and practiced at the facility. 

“We wanted to create an environment to play in all kinds of ways, whether it’s open play, leagues, certainly tournaments. So we thought, with the sport growing in popularity, the high schoolers are forming clubs all around the area,” said Kelly. 

“I wanted to get all the high school kids to show off their talents. It’s growing in popularity. We had Naperville Central, Naperville North, pickleball clubs, and some open play here during the spring. It’s been amazing to see all the kids from the high schools all over the area come and play,” said Kelly. 

Six players are either current or former students at Naperville North High School. Players like Jackson Clarke and Kyle Tran, who both competed in sports for the Huskies, are new to pickleball but quickly gained interest once they started swinging the paddle. 

“My friends were running a charity match, a charity tournament. So that’s the first time I ever touched a paddle, and we got second place, so that was pretty good,” said Naperville North student Kyle Tran.

“My German teacher headed our pickleball club at Naperville North. He would talk about it all the time in class, I didn’t really know what the sport was about, but he got me out one day. Ever since that first day, I just. I was back every week, and I’d been playing over the summer,” said Naperville North grad Jackson Clarke. 

Local athletes involved

Both have athletic backgrounds as Clarke played for the Naperville North soccer team, while Tran displayed his hops with the boys volleyball team. With a Pickleball club just starting up at Naperville North, Clarke, Tran, and other Huskies got involved and were excited about the opportunity to compete in the first high school contest.

“I was really excited. I thought it was an awesome idea. Since it’s not really a high school sport officially, to have them put this together, meet people from all these different schools, and be able to, you know, practice our craft,” said Clarke. 

“I helped to get everybody to join up because Naperville North runs that club here. So Tim brought up the idea here and I just try to help him out. I got excited because I felt like this is going to be a great opportunity for many people to play,” said Tran. 

Pickleball with a bright future

With the first tournament in the books, Sure Shot is hopeful that pickleball will continue to grow and become an IHSA sport down the road after showing increased interest from high school-aged athletes.

“This is a great start for the high school scene and to build some momentum. We would love to see some ads and school districts, get on the pickleball bandwagon as well. I know while talking with a lot of the PE teachers in the area at a conference recently, they’ve almost all, at least the DuPage County area, have added pickleball as a defined unit in their PE classes,” said Kelly.

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