A passion for pickleball: Edmonds couple behind tournament expected to draw 900

Edmonds resident Patrick Johnson practices an underhanded pickleball shot during a recent 5 a.m. session at Harbor Square Athletic Club in Edmonds.

It’s understandable that something which originated in a specific area of the country could go on and become quite popular there; so it is with pickleball here in the Puget Sound region, much to the delight of Edmonds resident and pickleball enthusiast Patrick Johnson.

The quirky racket sport was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island and has developed a huge local following. Johnson counts himself as a member of that devoted community of pickleball players and is doing all he can to see the game be further promoted and embraced.

While local interest in pickleball saw some growth in the early 2000s, it has boomed in the past few years, Johnson said. “Post-COVID pickleball (popularity) has exponentially increased,” he stated. ”Our numbers, as a community, probably quadrupled during 2020, 2021. And now it’s like the train is rolling and you can’t stop the train now.”

After first being exposed to pickleball as a sixth grader in the Edmonds School District, Johnson rekindled his love for the sport about 10 years ago and now is fully consumed by it. “I have a court in my backyard,” he sheepishly admitted.

But Johnson is more than just an avid player. In his role as an ambassador for one of the governing bodies of the sport, USA Pickleball, Johnson advocates for more courts to be built or converted from underused tennis courts, he helps organize events and tournaments, and he will share his joy for the sport with anyone who will listen.

“The sport has given me so much, this is a way to give back,” Johnson said.

Six years ago, Johnson — along with his wife Marianne and a couple of close friends — founded the Seattle Metro Classic, a tournament for both new and seasoned pickleball players. The first edition of the tourney in 2018 drew 50 entries; this year’s tournament — scheduled for July 30 through Aug. 4 in Shoreline — will have more than 900 competitors and is reportedly the largest such tournament on the West Coast.

“So far having what we’re offering, which is a community tournament, we’re getting a lot of interest,” Johnson said. “So we know we’re doing something right.”

The tourney is a stand-alone event, unlike similar tournaments that are often run in conjunction with televised professional tour events that are held throughout the U.S.

Running the Seattle Metro Classic is a labor of love for its organizers and its small army of volunteers, now numbering 150, that stage the event.

“There’s no big pickle behind us,” Johnson said, referring to the lack of a corporate nameplate sponsor; “We’re just a couple of people who really enjoy pickleball and love giving back.”

While the Seattle Metro Classic will take place on 18 temporary pickleball courts placed with the fenced tennis courts of Shoreview Park, it was playing on the courts of Edmonds’ Yost Park that brought back fond feelings of the sport for Johnson.

“Ten years ago it was a struggle (finding courts to play on),” Johnson explained. “But in the whole north-of-Seattle area, Yost Park was probably the epicenter (for pickleball).”

At the time, the Yost Park courts were still primarily being used for tennis; nevertheless, Johnson and other pickleball players found a way to make those courts work for them. 

“We used to just go up there with chalk (to draw court lines); seriously, that’s the way it was done,” Johnson explained.

The City of Edmonds Parks Department saw the influx of pickleball players to the courts and have since converted the facility to be pickleball-exclusive. “Once those permanent lines were put on it really brought the masses in,” Johnson noted.

Marianne Johnson has been playing pickleball for eight years following an invitation from her husband to join him on the court. “It was kind of romantic,” Marianne said.

One of those new players to take to the courts was Johnson’s wife, Marianne, after an invitation from Patrick to join him. “He said, ‘I thought this is something we can do for the rest of our life,’” she recalled. “It was kind of romantic.”

Now the couple takes to the courts at Harbor Square Athletic Club at 5 a.m. up to three days a week to play and work on their racket skills. The two even team up for various doubles’ competitions, including at the Seattle tournament they helped found.

“Usually my wife and I play together as a reward to each other,” Johnson said; “Not always recommended for a husband and wife to play together — you can understand why,” he added with a smile.

Johnson anticipates playing pickleball throughout his lifetime and continuing to advocate for the sport whenever and wherever he can. He would like to see the sport be included in middle and high school physical education curriculum, become a competitive sport at the high school and college levels and eventually be welcomed into the quadrennial Olympic Games. 

He would also like to see more communities build courts for the ever-expanding sport.

“Every city has courts now,” Johnson said. ”Not as many as we would like; we’re bursting at the seams. The player-to-court ratio is so skewed now. All we can do is keep lobbying.”

Patrick Johnson prepares to return a shot as his wife Marianna waits. The two were part of the team that founded the Seattle Metro Classic, a six-day pickleball tournament that has grown to the largest of its kind on the West Coast.

Seattle Metro Classic Pickleball Tournament

When: Tuesday, July 30 through Sunday, Aug. 4

Where: Shoreview Park; 700 N.W. Innis Arden Way; Shoreline

Times: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

More info: www.seattlemetropickleball.com

— Story and photos by Doug Petrowski

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