It’s me! I’m the best at pickleball!
OK, I’d better pump the brakes on that superlative. In all honesty and modesty, Cary and I are the best. Oh sure, we were in the 3.0 bracket at the local pickleball tournament this weekend….and that’s the lowest possible level. But that makes us the best of the worst, right? Besides, we tried to get into the higher 3.5 bracket, but it was full. So we weren’t really sandbagging too much… more like sand-pouching.
We were rookies – it was our first tourney. But it’s kinda hard to call us “rookies” when we have a combined 132 years of living under our (Sansa)belts. We’re a mirror image team: I’m 57 and Cary’s 75.
There were 12 teams in our bracket, split into two six-team pools for round-robin play. The top two teams from each pool advanced to the “medal round.” Cary and I won our first five matches before losing to two young whippersnappers 15-9. But our record was good enough to get us to the next round, where we knocked off the #1 team from the other pool, then had a rematch against the whippersnappers… and WE won, 15-9!
I’m such an anti-competitive dude that my first thought was that the whippersnappers got screwed.. (Actually, that was my second thought – my first thought was “holy schnikes, I can’t believe we won!”) We both had the same record, and we split our head-to-head matches by identical scores. But we won when all money was on the line (the whopping $30 gift certificate!).
This isn’t really a pickleball story, though. Cary’s originally from Cadiz, Ohio, a coal-mining town in Eastern Ohio (near scenic Steubenville!). His dad worked for the coal company, and Cary’s first job was at the mines. But he was a pretty good baseball player. In high school, he played against future major league star Thurman Munson, future NFL receiver Danny Abramowicz, and longtime MLB coach Rich Donnelly. Cary got a baseball scholarship to Bowling Green State University, in western Ohio, and, in his own words, “it changed my life.”
Cary was able to escape the inexorable future of most of his classmates — a life of back-breaking, unforgiving labor in the coal mines — and get a college degree. He wound up working with “big data” and teaching statistics classes – 20 years at Bowling Green and 20 more at the University of Cincinnati. He met his wife in his first year of working for BGSU, when she was a student there and working as a waitress. They have a son and daughter-in-law and two grandsons who live in Indy. Cary volunteers at a local YMCA, teaching pickleball to beginners.
The Harvards and Stanfords get all the prestige of higher education. But let’s not discount the role of the “mid-major” state schools that offer scholarships and semi-affordable tuition to first-generation college students. They are changing life trajectories… and therefore changing the world.
I’ve learned quite a bit about Cary, and if it weren’t for pickleball, he’d be just another face in the crowd…. some random old dude. Yes, I’ve heard all the “pickleball is for old people” jokes. But the older folks I’ve met through the sport are great people, with interesting stories to tell. Maybe you should try pickleball. Or maybe you can just spend a bit more time with some seniors, and get to know their stories. You just might learn something.
Cary’s a good dude who also happens to be a pretty darn good pickleball player. If I’m lucky enough to reach the age of 75, I hope folks say the same thing about me.