My Debut at the PPA Tournament in Mesa, Arizona

Anna Leigh waters PPA Mesa 2024
Anna Leigh Waters PPA 2024 (Picture Kerry Pittenger)

People of all ages came out to Mesa Arizona late February to catch the PPA Tournament held at the Arizona Athletic Grounds. Fans were decked out in their finest pickleball regalia, wearing shirts that said “Noise Ordinance Rebels,”  “World’s Okayest Pickleball Player” and “I Crush Balls.” One gentleman donned a baseball cap with a bright green pickleball glued right on top. Pickleball fans are the best kinds of fans. 

The weather was beautiful – no better place for a pickleball tournament than February in Arizona, where the sun is warm but not yet scorching, and the desert is painted in a light shade of green. On this tournament weekend, spirits were high and the energy was vibrant, but also chill. 

In the crowd, fans held homemade signs:

“Warning: competitive pickleball: may cause internal damage” read one. “Anna Leigh and Catherine, you’re BOTH #1 ” said another. One just read “PICKLEBALL.” Simple and succinct. 

Pickleball doesn’t discriminate. Outside the main stage where the pros played, dozens of pickleball courts were filled with competitors of all ages. Young versus the not so young – at many times, they were equally matched. Just goes to show that pickleball is accessible for all ages and skill sets, and anyone can benefit.

Anna Leigh Waters played a great game. Stunning even. “She’s a specimen. Literally how? No girl comes that close,” says Michelle, whose husband is a trainer for several of the players. Probably the biggest upset – if you can call it that –  was the unlikely duo of Andrei Daescu, former tennis pro – and up and coming eighteen year old Gabriel Tardio. They beat Wilson and Newman in the men’s doubles. 

But, the real MVPs of the weekend were the hype kids. Jordan is 13 and is sporting a perm. The kid is homeschool cool, if such a thing exists. He and his brother Witten, 11, are the hype kids of the tournament. In between matches, they run out onto the court, egging on the crowd, encouraging chanting and cheering while throwing gear and gifts into the stands. But, you have to work for it.  “Come on!” says Witten to the crowd, raising his hands up to signify “lowder!”

Then he throws a t-shirt to an eager participant. Witten is “crazily addicted to reading,” according to his brother. Currently, Witten is in the middle of  book one of the Harry Potter series (for the second time),  which he reads courtside while somehow also keeping score. Their parents Paul and April run the VIP tent, where players indulge in brisket and grilled veggies and a variety of healthy sports drinks. 

When asked what they like about being hype kids, their answers are pure gold. “How fun it is to have so much power in your hands.” Jordan says with a wry smile. “Teasing them,” says Witten.  “If they aren’t loud enough, I’ll just walk away and shake my head.” Traveling with their parents in a camper van to tournaments, the hype life seems to suit the brothers.

“I plan on sticking with this for a while. It’s not something I hate doing.” Jordan says nonchalantly. In the future, he plans to either create his own business, or take over his dad’s financial advisor business – that is, of course, if being a pro pickleball player doesn’t work out. As for Witten, he plans on being a chemist or baker, and, if he’s honest, is more of a tennis guy. He likes the ways the ball bounces. “Somehow it’s easier to run across a tennis court and get it, than to run across the pickleball court and get it.”

These kids have big plans. Catch them at the next tournament! And, if you’re loud enough, you could score some swag.

Photo of author

A burgeoning writer and amateur chef, Monica is passionate about people, languages, travel and culture. She’s lived in the Southwest, the Midwest, Italy, the East Coast, and the Midwest again, where she is a member of a local rowing team. A recent convert to Pickleball, she is happy to join the Pickleball Portal team and steal insider knowledge to perfect her game.

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