New Canaan paddle tournament brings friends to area
NEW CANAAN -- Hundreds of young athletes from around the country gathered in Fairfield County Saturday to participate in the paddle tennis national championship.
The tournament, sponsored by the American Platform Tennis Association, drew 238 competitors to courts in New Canaan, Darien Wilton, Stamford and Greenwich, according to the tournament's director Steve Caccam. Roughly half of the participants -- who ranged in age from younger than 10 to 18 years old -- hail from Fairfield County, while scores of others came from Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia and several other cities to cross paddles in the national tournament.
Paddle tennis is a lot like regular tennis, with a couple minor difference, Caccam said. The net is slightly shorter, the court is slightly smaller and is surrounded by a 12-foot high wire fence and players are allowed to play a ball even after it bounces in the court.
"Because of that, some of these points will go on for 15 to 25 hits at this level," said Caccam. "That's the beauty of paddle tennis. it places a premium on patience and thoughtful shot making over speed and raw power."
"I just started playing last year," said Quentin, a student at Middlesex Middle School in Darien, as he sat in the paddle court lodge in New Canaan's Waveny Park Saturday afternoon, waiting for his quarter-final round to begin.
His partner, Grant, has been playing for three years.
"We came here this weekend to play paddle ball, but also to see our friends," said Grant.
Both of Grant's brothers were also participating in the tournament, as well as Quentin's two brothers.
The duos' mothers grew up in Greenwich together, but Grant's family moved to Pittsburgh about a decade ago, said Grant, who was dressed from head-to-toe in Pittsburgh Steelers' garb. So was Quentin.
"I'm usually a Giants fan," Quentin said with a shrug. But in honor of his friend, he was sporting black and gold for the day.
This is the second year Fairfield County has hosted the tournament, according to Caccam.
"It's great," said Grant's mother, Kathleen McGhee. "We just said last year we were going to come, and now it's a new tradition."
It's the one time a year the two families get to spend quality time together, Kathleen McGhee said, noting that Allison McDermott was her eldest son's godmother.
"It's a good opportunity for our kids to get together and play," she said. "They don't always play together, but it's easy to pick up, and feel it out with a new partner."
As Grant and Quentin headed back out to one of the three paddle courts set up in Waveny Park for their semi-final round, their mothers headed out to the covered porch to watch. There, about a dozen parents were gathered. As two fathers rocked on rocking chairs watching the match on the far right, another set of fathers recorded video on a Blackberry of their sons playing in the middle court.
Quentin and Grant were swinging their paddles in the court farthest to the left, where Tom Sellig, of Wayne, Pa., was intently watching his son, Mason, 12, who was opposing the two Steelers fans.
Mason and his partner, also from Pennsylvania, were relatively new to the game as well, Sellig said.
"This is his first season playing. But they played in an invitation in Philadelphia and did really well," Sellig said as he watched the two teams switch sides on the court.
"We have friends who live in Darien," Sellig said. "And to be honest, part of this is the excuse to come out here and visit them."