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Giant pickleball tournament to aid Burnaby-based assistance dog program

Pacific Assistance Dogs Society is teaming up with Pickleball BC for a provincewide charity tournament next April.

Picklers and puppies gathered at a Burnaby park this week to announce a provincewide charity tournament in support of Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS).

The tournament, planned for Saturday, April 20, 2024, will see clubs around the province host competitions in their own communities all on the same day.

Registration is expected to open on the Pickleball BC website on Jan. 1.

"I think that's going to be a significant event in pickleball life, and, as we're doing a charity drive for PADS, I think we can support them to a great extent as well," Pickleball BC founder and president Walter Knecht said at the announcement.

Tara Doherty, communications director for Burnaby-based PADS, said pickleball shares many of the assistance dog organization's core values, such as inclusivity, wellness and community engagement.

"It just seemed like a very natural fit," Doherty said of the tournament partnership.

Burnaby picklers will be first in line to support the cause, according to Burnaby Pickleball Association president Karen Watson.

"Pickleball is a sport for everybody, every skill level, every age level, and now it's nice to know that pickleball is also associated with the dogs. So, we're very inclusive," Watson quipped. "The Burnaby Pickleball Association welcomes this new relationship with PADS, and we welcome any opportunity to work together."

PADS approached Pickleball BC about two years ago about the idea.

"Charities have to be really creative in engaging new audiences," development director Joanne Veltri told the NOW. "Pickleball is the fastest growing sport, literally, in the world. They were a find."

Knecht said all it took was someone to organize it.

With Pickleball BC membership growing by as much as 35 per cent every year for the last five years, Knecht said the PADS partnership isn't so much about attracting more members as it is about getting the attention of municipal officials.

"We're terribly overloaded in every place," Knecht told the NOW. "We have clubs that have a thousand people, and they have to cut off because they haven't got time on a court, so we need some more help from the governments."

The fast-growing sport has gotten some "negative publicity" in recent years because of noise from pickleball courts too close to apartment buildings and other homes, according to Knecht.

He said that happens when municipalities simply convert underused tennis courts to pickleball instead of finding out-of-the-way places for picklers to play, such as at Robert Burnaby Park.

Knecht hopes that will change with greater awareness.

As for PADS, organizers hope the tournament partnership will lead to more of the organization's "life-changing" dogs being placed with clients who need them.

From birth to follow-up care, Doherty said each dog costs about $35,000.

"We place those dogs free of charge with our clients, so events like this one are really integral to what we do," she said.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor