Teams separated by over 1,500 miles were brought together by more than pickleball —although there was plenty of that too.
The Alaska Crimson Bear Pickleball Club hosted the San Francisco Eagles club for a Friday and Saturday tournament held at Floyd Dryden Middle School, which featured dozens of pickleball games by day and celebrations steeped in Polynesian culture in the evening.
While pickleball, a racket sport that combines elements of ping pong, tennis and badminton, is widely reported to be the fastest-growing sport in America, it still seems unlikely that these two particular clubs would link up for a two-day tournament. So what brought them together?
“It’s a love story, bro,” said TJ Teaupa of the San Francisco Eagles with a laugh. “The mischief started between me and my wife (Seini Toetuu from Juneau). We had friends on both sides.”
So with an established connection, the two clubs decided to to get together for a tournament that allowed for competitive play and for the Lower 48 team to see Alaska’s capital city. Juneau’s team received a boost from former NFL defensive lineman Stephen Paea, whose wife, Vika Toetuu Paea, is from Juneau. The husband-wife won the tournament’s advanced mixed bracket.
Members of the Juneau club said they were glad to hold an event that showed robust support for the sport they love.
“It’s such an awesome, awesome environment to be around,” said Alaska Crimson Bear Mele Maake, who was one half of doubles teams that claimed top spots in both the women’s intermediate and mixed intermediate brackets.
She added: “It’s a lot of fun for Juneau. We’re getting some very good experience.”
Vini Lata, an Alaska Crimson Bear some call “coach,” said he’s pleased to see the sport find supporters in town. Lata, who played tennis in college, praised pickleball’s accessibility for people who may have never previously played a competitive sport as well as folks whose athletic primes may have come and went.
“This is a game that anyone can learn,” Lata said. “I call it your second-chance sport.”
He said he’s seen the sport help young club members build sportsmanship and better fitness habits, and that it was meaningful to see so many gathered to play a sport he cares about.
“It just brings tears to my eyes that they’re passionate about it like I am,” Lata said. “The biggest goal is health.”
Maake said she anticipates pickleball passion that will continue to spread as more locals discover the sport, and plans are being made for a tournament open to all of Juneau too.
Womens advanced: Marissa Tuifale and Vika Toetuu Paea, Alaska Crimson Bear Pickleball Club.
Mens advanced: Freddie Vaenuku Jr. and Edwin Moungaloa Latu, San Francisco Eagles.
Womens intermediate: Mele Maake and Salote Maake, ACB.
Mens intermediate: Fred Vaenuku Sr. and Malota Fetu’u, SFE.
Mixed intermediate: Mele Maake and Ongo Tupou, ACB.
Mixed advanced: Stephen Paea and Vika Toetuu Paea, ACB.
• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.