BY CARMEN SIERING
It seems fitting that a man who calls himself the unofficial pickleball ambassador in Bloomington would travel all the way to Spain to participate in an international pickleball competition pitting North American players against those from Europe.
“When I first heard about the tournament, I thought, ‘What a good idea, promoting pickleball by making it an international sport,’” says Robert Shull, 80. “Also, I have four offspring, and two of them live abroad. So it was a wonderful opportunity to participate in something historic for pickleball and see my two daughters, who came to the tournament.”
Shull, who picked up his racquet eight years ago and plays three or four days a week, is part of a group of local pickleball players who meet regularly at Twin Lakes Recreation Center year-round. In warmer weather, many players meet at RCA Park on dedicated pickleball courts. Shull maintains the group’s email list, which includes more than 100 players.
The tournament Shull participated in was the Bainbridge Cup, the inaugural event of the International Federation of Pickleball, held September 15 in Madrid, Spain. Playing for Team North America, Shull was paired with a partner of a comparable skill level.
“We won three out of four,” he says. More importantly, he notes, “North America beat the Europeans 3-to-1. There were more than 150 North American wins.”
The next day, Shull participated in a more serious competition, the Spanish Open. “That’s where people vie for personal glory and gold medals and that kind of thing,” he says. “I didn’t have high expectations.” But, he says, he did have fun.
The tournaments were a continuation of Shull’s dedication to a sport he loves. He isn’t just a pickleball player, he’s also a fan who reads up on the sport and watches matches on the internet to learn new techniques and hone his skills. He says he fully expects to see pickleball become an Olympic sport in the not-too-distant future.
“A lot of people think so,” he says. “Every issue of Pickleball Magazine shows more growth.”
Just for the record, Shull says, there is an actual Bainbridge Cup. “It’s like a silver punchbowl,” he says. “And everyone who played got a participation trophy.”
For more information on pickleball in Bloomington, visit Pickleball-Bloomington, IN on Facebook.