It’s a hot, steamy Wednesday in late August. The thermometer is still at 104 degrees at 7:30 p.m., yet a troupe of eager pickleballers of all ages and abilities makes its way to the half-dozen outdoor courts at Copper Sky Recreation Park.

A fun and competitive round-robin tournament — with emphasis on the former — is a weekly occurrence through the sizzling summer months. Additional events will take place on Saturday mornings as the weather cools and more winter residents return to the city.

Pickleball, the fastest-growing sport in America, has a long history in Arizona. Buckeye hosted the first national tournament in 2009, with Casa Grande serving the same role for three years beginning in 2015. In early November, more than 4,000 amateur and professional players will convene at a new 68-court complex in Farmers Branch, Texas, north of Dallas, for the USA Pickleball National Championships.

Pickleball, which combines facets of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, is played on a court about a quarter of the size of a tennis court. Players hit a hollow, perforated plastic ball with paddles to score points in singles or doubles games.

Though perhaps a little late to the pickleball party, Maricopa players say the racket sport is more than just a game.

“I consider this — my pickleball family — to be my second family,” said 53-year-old Alberto Holguin, one of those playing in a recent-round robin at Copper Sky.

Family affair
Zander Newey, 18, is a newer participant in the Wednesday night round-robins. A four-year tennis player at Maricopa High School, he made the adjustment to pickleball early this year.
“I was a little skeptical at first. It looked like an easier version of tennis, and why would I play that?” he said. “But I love that it is less about power and more about control.”

Newey looks forward to the opportunity to measure his progress each week.
“Playing against more experienced people, I get to learn things I didn’t know before,” he said. “This is where my full-time commitment is sports-wise.”

The young racketer eyes entering tournaments when his play reaches a higher level.
Wednesday nights — and the sport in general — are a family affair for others.

Lourdes Figueroa found the game when her son learned about it in middle school. His “teacher”? Longtime local pickleball advocate Rocky Myers, a participant that evening at
age 76.

“It’s a family-friendly game that we all could play,” Figueroa noted as she watched her husband, Fernando, on the court. “All four of our kids played at different times and still play with us when they can. We started our young nephew and niece, who want to play when they come and visit.”

The Figueroas have been Maricopa residents since 2007. They began playing indoors — using a makeshift court outlined by tape on the basketball hardwood at Copper Sky — shortly after the facility opened in 2014. It would be five more years before the outdoor courts became a reality.

“I like playing with the different people who come out here,” Lourdes Figueroa said. “It’s a good way to get exercise without you really thinking you are doing that. If we had more courts, we could get even more of the community involved.”

Holguin, who grew up in Chandler and works in the financial industry in Maricopa, has played and coached many sports, including a current role with the tennis team at Heritage Academy. He and his five children joined the racket sport that swept the nation this year.
“I was coaching youth football when we saw these courts being built,” he said. “We said, ‘Let’s check it out.’ I played one time in a round-robin before COVID hit. I love the competition. And Jeff — I love that guy.”

[Bryan Mordt]
Pickleball ambassador
That’s Jeffrey Fizer, an official USA Pickleball ambassador for Maricopa. The 53-year-old who works for the Department of Corrections in Buckeye succeeded Myers in that role two years ago.

A Chicago native, Fizer, 53, moved to Arizona in 2017 and began to play the game a year later. He saw an InMaricopa magazine ad for a Saturday morning beginners class led by Myers on the taped-off tennis courts, and his passion was ignited.

He is the creator, organizer and enthusiastic cheerleader for the round-robin tournaments in his adopted hometown. While the competition among the higher-level players can be intense, Fizer is even more pleased to see newcomers warmly welcomed by the more experienced pickleballers.

“It really does get me excited. I had so much support when I learned how to play,” Fizer said. “I just want to pay it forward.”

For Fizer, the mission goes beyond the action on the courts.

“It’s the fellowship and everyone coming together to have a good time in these trying times in our society,” he said. “And it’s getting people here in Maricopa understanding they’ve got a place to play. The game is good exercise, and we want to have the people of Maricopa more involved.”

Fizer started the Wednesday night events, dubbed the Copa Spectacular, for just that reason. With snowbirds making their yearly migration back to town soon, Copa Classic round-robins and competitive tournaments will take place on selected Saturdays.

A mixed doubles competition held in April was the first official tourney in the city, attracting local players and others from Casa Grande, Gilbert and Tempe.

“That last tournament was just a starter,” he said. “I play in different towns and cities in the area to promote what we’re doing here. Pickleball is growing in Maricopa the way the city has grown the last 20 years.”

COPA Spectacular Round Robin: At Copper Sky

Leading the way
Rocky Myers is like the alpha dog of the Copper Sky pickleball pack.

He became obsessed with the game shortly after moving to the city and playing for the first time a decade ago.

Myers, Maricopa’s first USA Pickleball ambassador, led efforts to introduce the game to middle school students. He attended city council meetings to advocate for outdoor courts. At the time, games at Copper Sky were limited to half the gym just a few mornings a week — and sometimes meant putting temporary nets on a tennis court.

The Figueroa clan were among those recruited to help tell the story of the sport’s benefits. Myers brought council members and their spouses out to play, to show them the game is easy and fun.

After several years, Myers finally received a call in 2018 from then-Councilmember Nancy Smith. The message: “We’re going to build!”

The Wednesday night round-robins and Saturday morning classes represent an evolution of all that early work. Myers hopes for continued growth.

“I’d like to see those classes offered again to the public to give them a chance to learn how to play,” Myers said. “I also tried to work with youth groups — soccer, football, baseball leagues — to try and get those players to play pickleball in their off seasons. It would be great for hand-eye coordination.”

Myers said he feels the game is a blessing.

“Pickleball has made my retirement so joyful,” Myers said. “It’s a fun sport, it’s easy to learn and it’s good exercise. And you can meet a lot of great people. I do warn people about one thing — it is addictive. But it’s a good addiction.”

The October edition of InMaricopa Magazine is in Maricopa mailboxes and available online.