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Local pickleballers among Special Olympians making history

The only two registered Special Olympic pickleball teams in Ontario met on the courts in Collingwood this weekend for their first tournament

Sports history was made in Collingwood on Sunday with the first-ever Special Olympics Ontario pickleball tournament. 

The growing sport is new for Special Olympics Ontario (SOO), with only two teams registered so far – one in Meaford/The Blue Mountains, and one in Midland/Penetanguishene.

Thornbury Thunder and the Huronia Power Picklers met on the court at Swing Courts in Collingwood for their first-ever tournament on June 5.

John Baird, who oversees the Huronia Power Picklers, said the team is currently comprised of 10 registered Special Olympic athletes, split evenly between men and women.

"We started with five athletes in the summer of 2019, continued during COVID-19 indoors wearing masks,abiding with all SOO restrictions," said Baird, who also credited coach Helen Robertson for her dedicated work with the team. "Our collective spirit, energy and love of the sport is to grow Pickleball into a SOO-sanctioned discipline."

Shelley Higginson, founder and program director at Events for Life, is one of four coaches for the Thornbury Thunder team, which includes eight athletes who practice together once a week at the Beaver Valley Community Centre.

 Now an avid pickleball player herself, Higginson said the team first came together in March this year with women's, men's, and mixed doubles teams. 

"The athletes are doing really well," she said. "It's not a recognized competitive sport yet with Special Olympics, but we're trying to get it out there that this is a wonderful sport ... we're hoping other coaches will step up and start a team."

The match-ups from Sunday will be re-matched in August 22 at the North Simcoe Rec. Centre when the Thunder heads to Midland/Penetanguishene for a second tournament. 

"It was great to see the fun, the laughter, and the enthusiasm of the community," said Higginson, who noted the volunteers from Swing Court's membership to help run the tournament and the games. 

"We'd like to encourage other communities to get involved in Special Olympics and be inclusive and get some athletes on their team," said Higginson. "The message we would really like to get out to people is to get it started in their community." 

To find your local Special Olympics clubs for volunteer or participation opportunities, visit the Special Olympics Ontario website here.

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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 13 years of experience as a local journalist
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