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  • Caylie Gnyra

Vermilion Hosts Seniors Pickleball Provincials

Gord McNeill and Daryl Crooks take on opponents at the Alberta 55+ Senior Winter Games Pickleball Provincials. Photo Caylie Gnyra

Vermilion demonstrated not only the skill of its pickleball players but also the strength of its community as it hosted the Alberta 55+ Senior Winter Games Pickleball Provincials on April 5 and 6.

Seventy-nine players from across Alberta gathered to compete at J.R. Robson School and Vermilion Elementary School, with a good turnout from across the province. Players faced off in round-robin events on Friday, while medal playoffs were held on Saturday. The atmosphere was focused but playful, with friendly banter both on and off the courts.

The Friday evening of the event, players gathered together at J.R. Robson School for a banquet where distinguished guests spoke of the camaraderie and quickly growing popularity of the sport that most people had never even heard of ten years ago.

The sport originated one afternoon on Bainbridge Island in Washington State in 1965 when congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell devised a game based on the rules of badminton that they could play using the only equipment they could find on Pritchard’s property: a few ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball from a ball and bat set Pritchard’s son Frank had been given for his birthday earlier that year. Pritchard’s wife suggested the name “pickleball” as a nod to the just-for-fun “pickle boat” races that occurred after the University of Washington’s formal regattas. To learn more about the history of the sport and how pickleball got its name, visit

Vermilion’s own history of pickleball dates back to a little less than a decade ago when a few keen locals took it upon themselves to start exploring the game. The community now boasts a regular roster of people gathering at the college gym to play the sport.

Peter Walsh and Janet Elliott, MCs for the banquet, celebrated the volunteerism of the local pickleball community and their contributions to the success of the event. They also thanked the Buffalo Trails School Division for providing the venues, the local businesses for the incredibly generous donations for draw prizes, and Mrs. J’s Catering for the food. Walsh further acknowledged event organizer Elliott as “our energizer bunny,” and “Gord [McNeill as] our magic man with the pools, the draws, the scheduling. Anyone who has ever done that knows it’s a nightmare. Gord is our guy. He put this together magically. Working through the logistics of that doesn’t come easily. He’s had a lot of practice but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be slick or a piece of cake.”

Vermilion’s Mayor Greg Throndson quotably referred to Gord McNeill as “the Wayne Gretzky of pickleball,” and later said, “Remember age is a number, we are never too old to live life to the fullest and get out there and compete.”

Lakeland College’s President and CEO Alice Wainwright-Stewart highlighted the camaraderie of the athletes, while Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Garth Rowswell noted the meteoric growth of the sport and the historical spirit of volunteerism in Vermilion.

The next day, Vermilion proved its prowess in pickleball, bringing home 13 medals. Events were divided into Ladies’, Mens’, and Mixed, and then into age-based categories. In Ladies’ events, Amy Kern & Helen Thompson took gold, Janet Elliott & Angela Morin and Bev Jones & Darlene Smith took silver, and Donna Wieman & Marlene Woods took bronze.

In Mens’ events, Daryl Crooks & Gord McNeill placed first, Peter Walsh & Greg Smith took silver, and Tim Elliott & Wayne Lewin as well as Mel Reid & Don Boorse took bronze.

In Mixed Doubles, Donna & Gerald Wieman and Amy Kern & Wayne Lewin took home the gold while Janet Elliott & Daryl Crooks placed second and both Wendy Novakowski & Sam Basillades and Mel Reid & Marion Dicke received bronze medals.

Finalists will advance on to Nationals in Quebec City in August. Congratulations to all the players who participated in this event, and to everyone who put in time and effort to make these provincial games a success.


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