Texas Christian University senior Mark Polowczak, 22, ranks 106th in the World Pickleball Rankings. Polowczak was a tennis player who signed up on a whim for his first pickleball tournament.

“I thought it was the dumbest thing ever before I started playing,” Polowczak said. “The first tournament I played and the first match I ever played in singles was against, I believe, the No. 3 guy in the world. And I held my ground. So, I was like, I can do this.”

Polowczak and his teammate and co-worker Donovan Rivera, 24, won the first round of the first annual Sink-a-Dink pickleball tournament hosted by IDEA Public Schools May 9 at Courtside Kitchen, a pickleball venue and restaurant.

The fundraiser raised more than $60,000, surpassing its $50,000 goal to fund summer programs.  

“I wanted to be one of the first charity tournaments in Fort Worth,” Joanna Crain, the regional director of advancement at IDEA Public Schools Tarrant County, said. “It is definitely a sport that is gaining popularity fast. And if we can get on that train right now, we’re going to be the first ones to claim it as our signature event.”

IDEA Public Schools charged $200 per team, and spectators paid a fee and received food. The event also brought a coach to teach beginners how to play. Raffles, silent auctions and awards wrapped the event up.

Pickleball, which is governed by the USA Pickleball Association, grew to 4.8 million players in the U.S. in 2021, according to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) Single Sport Report on Pickleball, making it one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S.

Since the sport’s 1965 inception in Washington State, there are 38,140 courts, and USA Pickleball has sanctioned 153 tournaments, according to the report.

How to play:

  • A regulation pickleball court is 20’ x 44’; a net hangs 36” at the ends and hangs 34” in the middle.
  • Pickleball can be played in singles or doubles. Games are first to 11 and win by 2. 
  • Equipment used: “An official pickleball is made of plastic and is between .78 to .935 ounces and 2.874 to 2.972 inches in diameter.”
  • Find a court.
  • Find a tournament.

Fort Worth accepted the sport quickly with the opening of pickleball and restaurant venue Courtside Kitchen and adoption at multiple courts across the city. 

The McLeland Tennis Center, 1600 W. Seminary Drive, where Polowczak coaches pickleball, will bring a program focused on pickleball in the fall, said Rivera, the manager at the center.

“The major sports here in Fort Worth are baseball, soccer, football. You don’t really see anything tennis or pickleball-wise,” Rivera said.

Dionel C. Waters, the executive director IDEA Public Schools Tarrant County, hadn’t heard of pickleball before the May 9 fundraiser.

“This is my first time playing pickleball today,” Waters said. “If it was up to me, I would have picked basketball, but I know that’s a little bit different. It was a lot of fun — it went as expected, I lost every game, and I expected that.”

Waters was glad to hop on the opportunity to host a tournament at Courtside Kitchen. Players like Polowczak see pickleball growing even more. 

Polowczak hopes “eventually, it’ll be in the Olympics.”

Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Cristian ArguetaSoto

Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. He can be reached at cristian.arguetasoto@fortworthreport.org or (817) 317-6991.