Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Great Canadian Pickleball Wars by Colin Caldwell, Director / Chairman Sanctioning Committee, Pickleball Canada

There is currently a battle raging in Canada between two organizations, Pickleball Canada Association and a newly formed group out of Calgary, Canada Pickleball Association.

One might very well ask two questions: why are there two separate groups vying to represent pickleball across Canada and why is there so much animosity between the two?

A brief history of pickleball in Canada is in order. Five founding members formed Pickleball Canada in 2009. The object of the association was to increase awareness of pickleball across Canada through demos, radio, TV interviews and a monthly Pickleball Canada Newsletter. Membership grew through 2009 and into 2010 to 400 members across Canada.

In 2010 the founding members stepped aside in favor of a Board of Directors, who would create a set of Bylaws and establish the mission to promote the sport and spread the opportunity for players to find places to play. That mission is still evident to this day. Pickleball Canada offers guides and instruction materials on the game and does not charge for training or associated materials.

In the fall of 2010 Mr. Brent Johner of the Oakridge Racquet Club in Calgary requested that Pickleball Canada sanction what was to be billed as the Canadian National Pickleball Championships to be held in Calgary in July 2011. Mr. Johner’s group does not support the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) or the USAPA rules concerning paddle material specifications. They insisted that the tournament be open to all people and all paddles. Mr. Johner is a promoter and retailer of the Apike and Hush paddles and sells these paddles through his many web sites including www.okpickleball.ca and http://clubhouse.racquetnetwork.com/proshop/products/category/pickleball/

An Annual General Meeting of Pickleball Canada was held in February 2011 in Arizona, where many of the board members reside during the winter months. At that time Mr. Johner made an unsuccessful bid to be elected to the Board of Directors of Pickleball Canada. Also at that meeting a motion was passed to adopt the International Federation of Pickleball Rules and USAPA Rules that include the guidelines on paddles. See Paddle Material Specifications.

Upon learning of the vote to accept the IFP Rules, Mr. Johner took three actions: he denounced the decision to standardize the rules for all sanctioned tournament play in Canada; he dropped the Pickleball Canada sanctioning for what was now his Canadian National Pickleball Championship Tournament; and he announced that his tournament would be open to all paddles, but not all players. He disallowed all US player participation, even those that had previously registered.

Since that time Mr. Johner, along with Chuck Lefaive from British Columbia and Marcel Lemieux from Quebec (who by the way were two of the founding members), have waged a war against Pickleball Canada. It is interesting to note that of the five original founding members, three have chosen to remain on Pickleball Canada’s Board of Directors. They are Bev Butt, Wayne Roswell and Bill Franzman.

One of the first volleys was to officially register the name Canada Pickleball Association with Corporations Canada, even though the name they chose closely matches the existing Pickleball Canada Association brand that had been in existence for over 2 years. Next the upstart group offered free memberships to attract new members hoping, I suspect, to legitimize their claim to be a bona fide association and not just a vehicle to sell Apike paddles. All new members must take the “Players’s Pledge” that includes the words “--- respect every player’s right to choose their own paddle.”

Their web site has included articles such as “Study Stated Apike Pickleball Paddle Safe”. Interestingly enough, there seems to be some disagreement between the two gentlemen relative to Apike performance. Chuck Lefaive has long insisted that the Apike is no different from any other paddle when it comes to the speed it can produce or the spin it can apply to the ball. Mr. Johner, on the other hand, states in his article that, depending on the level of player, there can be up to a 10% increase in the speed at which the ball can be propelled with an Apike. He also states in his article “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Apike?” “Some prefer it (the Apike) because it offers (and delivers) superior spin and control”. These admissions are very interesting considering that the promoters of the Apike have long shied away from admitting there is any advantage when it comes to velocity or spin. I wonder if Mr. Johner vetted his remarks through Frank Wu (the designer) or Chuck Lefaive? Obviously, they have failed to get their story straight.

So, the battle will continue between the two groups. On one hand you have the founding organization, Pickleball Canada, a non-profit organization whose primary goal is to promote the sport and provide free training tools to all. On the other hand you have the new association, Canada Pickleball, a for-profit group that promotes and sells Apike and Hush paddles and charges considerable fees for teaching pickleball and hosting tournaments. I was amazed at the cost for lessons that Mr. Johner is charging through his Racquet Network site. Check it out for yourself at Pickleball Lessons in Calgary. Mr. Johner’s Canadian National Pickleball Championship costs $65.00 per event, fairly pricey if you play in 2 or 3 events.

Mr. Johner and Canada Pickleball do not believe in volunteer pickleball programs. He does believe in making money. The only way to grow pickleball, in his estimation, is to make a business out of the sport. He states, “In general, volunteer-run programs work only where very special (and rare) volunteers can be found to make them work. In the absence of such a special person, there has to be an economic motive for somebody else to make it grow. It doesn’t matter if that person is a facility manager, a program leader, a racquet dealer, a teaching pro or a club owner. The sport will grow successfully only in those areas where somebody earns income by making it grow.” Furthermore, he believes the only way to grow our sport is to pay professionals to organize the game. “At the end of the day, pickleball is like any other sport. It has to pay both its court costs and the wages of the people doing the work. If it is unable to do this, pickleball will not be taken seriously by facility managers and will eventually be pushed aside by other sports who are able to pay their way. Equally important, though, is that pickleball will not be taken seriously by the players if the fee structures are unsustainable. The most important thing I have learned as the Executive Director for Racquet Network is this: FREE PROGRAMS ATTRACT FREE RIDERS. It is impossible to build anything sustainable around free riders.”
Let me make something very clear. Pickleball Canada did not ban the use of the Apike and Hush paddles for everyday use. If one chooses to play with an Apike or Hush paddle, that’s up to the individual. What Pickleball Canada maintains is that only approved paddles can be used in Pickleball Canada Sanctioned Tournaments.

Personally, I have chosen not to use them and I try not to play in any tournament where they are allowed. I don’t even like to play against them at the recreational level and avoid doing so whenever possible. Both the Apike and Hush paddles provide an unfair advantage to those that use them.

In conclusion, my opinion as a proud member of both Pickleball Canada and the USAPA, is that Mr. Johner is manipulating and manhandling the sport I love so dearly in order to market his products and services. He is using Canada Pickleball to promote that agenda. In addition, Mr. Johner and Chuck Lefaive have put profits ahead of the sport, and, frankly, I find their attack on Pickleball Canada, the original legitimate organization, self serving and distasteful.

All of us true patrons of the sport hope that in the coming months we can put an end to this debate and get on with promoting the true sport of pickleball here in Canada.

1 comment:

  1. Get your act together Mr. Johner and Chuck Lefaives!

    ReplyDelete