Are Pickleball champions from Englewood, because the best Pickleball paddle is made in Englewood? OR is the best Pickleball paddle made in Englewood because Pickleball Gold-Medal winners live here?
Well, first came the champions, to be sure. Walt Augustinowicz starting making the Synapse paddles in 2016 after he joined the group to play, and saw the need. Tony Leonard and Richard Fowlkes have been playing together for over 20 years - first as tennis partners; but then, three years ago, Tony Leonard converted his private tennis court to two beautiful Picklball courts, under lights. This led to their love of Pickleball and now the two wear their Gold Medals proudly.
Pickleball is the proverbial “game-changer” from tennis. Both men adapted well to the shorter court; new, sometimes confusing scorekeeping; and the game where the major strategy is reacting to fast-paced volleys. They have welcomed a myriad of new players to join them twice a week - not just men only, either. I was encouraged to play with them when I started, but I value my knees too much, and these guys are amazingly quick!
This year, September 25th - 29th,Tony and Richard traveled to Las Vegas to watch Tony’s son, Michael, who’s 26 years old, and was playing in the professional division. Michael is sponsored by GAMMA Sports who makes tennis and Pickleball paddles too. “But, he’s a professional!” says Tony.
“Other than the skill level, the big difference in the amateur, and the professional level is the prize money,” says Richard.
“We only get a “gold” medal and a hardy handshake,” he laughed.
“I really didn’t think we would have a chance to win anything,” said Tony. “We played in the amateur division in the ‘Men’s Skills 3.0 Doubles’
Class. Michael plays in the 5.0 Classes.”
“When you arrive at a tournament venue, you can register to play men’s doubles, mixed doubles or singles. If you want to play mixed doubles, the tournament committee will place you with a partner at your own level,” explains Tony, who has won 2 other medals. He won a Silver Medal in a mixed doubles, and also a Bronze Medal in another men’s doubles tournament. “But this is my first Gold medal with Richard,” he says.
Richard adds, “It was a well organized tournament with lots of volunteers helping keep it organized, I was greatly impressed. But, there is still stress to playing in a tournament. We play so much better here on the home-court. Under tournament play, you have officials making sure you serve the ball correctly, and watching every move for a foot fault. But I had a great time. We stayed downtown, at the Plaza Hotel—not on the strip. The courts were on the 5th floor on the roof. It was 95 degrees, with very little humidity. It was a physical challenge with dehydration out there.”
When asked if they would go back, or sign up again for another tournament, Tony said, “Absolutely!” But, Richard recently tweaked his knee, and needs a break from the game, but said he will be ready again soon.
Thinking back on the tournament, Richard was quick to point out, “I actually prefer to use Walt Augustinowizcs’ paddle that he makes here in Englewood,” said Richard. “I like the Synapse paddle. It’s much lighter than what the pros use. It’s maybe a full ounce lighter,” he said.
Walt Augustinowizc, who owns the design of the paddle, and plays Pickleball with Richard and Tony, explains “I’m glad players like them, and that they are approved for tournament play by USAPA. That’s a pretty big deal too. We sell them on Amazon, and locally at Babe’s Ace Hardware.”
For more information about the game of Pickleball, visit www.usapa.org or learn to play at the beginner Pickleball classes at the Englewood Sports Complex on Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. until noon. Call 941-861-1988 for more information.