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Record-Breaking Pickleball Trek

Residents Rally to Play Pickleball to Raise Funds for Local Charities

Article by Christina Sikorski with Stephen Neilson

Photography by Stephen Neilson

Originally published in SW Lake Lifestyle

Two Lake Zurich residents, Mayor Tom Poynton and Masato Suzuki (D&J Bistro owner and chef, a/k/a "The Pickleball Ninja") teamed up to represent Illinois to help accomplish a Guinness World Record: fastest time to play a game of pickleball in each of the lower 48 states.

Originally from Illinois and now living in Florida, Dean Matt got interested in pickleball during retirement. A lifelong pilot, he challenged himself to see how many games he could play, flying to new places along the way. Soon, he and a friend masterminded the “48-48-48” challenge of playing 48 matches in 48 states in less than 48 days. (Lake Zurich was stop #27 on the journey.)

With a world record in sight, Matt mapped out the entire journey at the pun-worthy website Mucho-Dean-Aero.com/the-pickleball-challenge. Said Matt at the local event, “We’re playing all sorts of great people, from the Speaker of the House in Mississippi, to governors, Special Olympics kids, inner city youth, normal folks and local officials like today… Yesterday we played pickleball pro Dave “The Badger” Weinbach in Wisconsin… so [in raising money for local causes] we’re telling 48 great stories in 48 states across the country, all a little bit different, and we’re so glad to be here.”

USAPickleball.org defines pickleball as a fun, friendly paddle sport, combining elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong, created in 1965 by three dads in Washington state for their bored kids, leveraging handmade equipment and simple rules. It’s now one of the fastest growing sports in the country. The Association of Pickleball Professionals shows that 36.5 million people played at least once in 2022; over 8.5 million played eight or more times.

Raceway Car Wash in Lake Zurich and Arlington Heights co-sponsored the Illinois event on May 17 at the Foglia YMCA in Lake Zurich. Lake Zurich Raceway owner Rich Baader and Matt were college roomates; Baader helped find a venue for the match, secured a Lake Zurich team, and worked to raise awareness for the local charities who each received $3,000: Emmaus House of Hospitality and A Safe Place. Emmaus House works to serve neighbors in financial food crisis by distributing food Sunday evenings in the basement of St. Francis de Sales, in addition to providing items for children, such as diapers, formula and shoes. Located in Zion, A Safe Place provides free services, counseling and education to victims of domestic abuse and human trafficking in Lake County, with a goal to educate all in creating safe and healthy communities. Baader was happy to both help his friend Matt and support the two charities.

Before the challenge, Poynton wasn’t a big pickler. “I’d only played once,” he said, “but I was willing to learn.” He knew Chef Suzuki was an accomplished player, and reached out. Before the match, the two practiced regularly. “He’s been very patient with me; I have black and blue marks on my chest to prove it from the balls he’s nailed me with that I should have returned but didn’t,” Poynton confessed.

The vigorously-played match was appreciated by a small but enthusiastic crowd, pickleball fans and charity-supporters alike; three games were played, with Poynton, Suzuki, Matt, and Matt’s travelling pickleball partner Rod Anderson changing teammates after each game. Fox 32 News documented the event for its evening newscast.

Regarding pickleball’s burgeoning popularity, Baader affirmed, “Pickleball is great; almost anyone can play, from a very high-level level athlete to an 80-year-old.”

Ready to try pickleball yourself? Poynton encouraged residents to look at local park district classes or find courts near home. He joked that folks can easily get started with a set of “house rules” and a $2 bright yellow ball on a friendly neighbor’s driveway.

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