Clay Roberts is Bainbridge Island’s Mr. Pickleball. That moniker was emphatically reinforced on Monday afternoon when Gov. Jay Inslee presented Roberts with the Governor’s Pin in recognition of his yeoman contributions to the game on Bainbridge Island and elsewhere. Not only did Inslee – a Bainbridge resident and years-long friend of Roberts – recognize the smiling Pickleball professor, but he declared Monday March 28 “Clay Roberts Day.”
On a day when Pickleball was honored as the “official sport” of Washington state, Roberts took little credit for helping to build the Founders Courts at Battle Point Park, along with establishing Bainbridge Island’s enthusiastic Pickleball Community, and instead heaped praise on others.
“What an incredible, historic day for our Pickleball community,” said Roberts, in his humble fashion. “We had a big and enthusiastic crowd. We had the Governor of our state, the delightful State Senator, who sponsored SB 5615, the CEO of USA Pickleball Association, (along) with a couple of Pickleball Hall of Famers, who came to play at our Founders Courts.” Joining Inslee were Senator John Lovick, the bill’s sponsor, and Stu Upson, CEO of USA Pickleball.
As Roberts has stated on more than one occasion, “Baseball has Cooperstown, Basketball has Springfield, Massachusetts and Pickleball has Bainbridge Island, Washington.” Gov. Inslee echoed those sentiments in The Kitsap Sun, “Look, London can have Wimbledon. Rome can have the Colosseum. We have the epicenter of the sporting world today (Monday March 28th) at the Pickleball court where it all started on Bainbridge Island.”
“This is a sport for the multitudes,” he added. “It’s one that everybody can play, and I mean everybody. It gives a gift to all Washingtonians. To those of age, it gives youth. To those who like competition, it gives a score, a winner, a loser. To singles, it give you the chance to become doubles. To doubles, it gives you the chance to repair your relationships, so you do not become singles. And to those who do not like cooking, it gives you an excuse to stay out of the kitchen.”
Speaking of the kitchen, one of the more memorable moments at Monday’s official signing event occurred when Cai Haight, one of the island’s best young players, called a kitchen violation on the Governor. The move garnered lots of laughs.
Pickleball was started by three Bainbridge Island friends and their families in the summer of 1965. The first court is still intact and located on Pleasant Beach Drive on the island’s south end. The sport, supposedly named after someone’s pet Poodle, has gone international with some 4 million people playing worldwide.
Roberts was the prime mover behind working with the Bainbridge Island Metro Parks District and raising private money to pay for the new courts, along with a grand entrance and kiosks celebrating the game’s founding and history. For years he’s operated a consultancy focusing on kids learning and health, and created curricula, such as “Social Emotional Learning” that is still in use today – as well as given countless speeches on behalf of youth and education. He’s also been a tireless local volunteer, raising money for the Bainbridge Education Support Team (the precursor to the Bainbridge School’s Foundation) in its annual Hoopfest for B.E.S.T. basketball tourney, and other noteworthy causes.
But Roberts refuses to talk about himself, or take any credit, as he winds up an email to supporters: “A special thanks to Sid Foster and Sherry Burke for all their hard work that made this day so successful,” he said. “Refreshments, a banner, flowers, shirts and hats for the dignitaries all were handled flawlessly by (that) duo. Thanks as well to a team of volunteers who greeted folks, set up nets, dried courts, took photos, and made futile attempts at crowd control. Nicely done.”
And, “our partners at Parks deserve a special shout-out,” he continued. Doug Slingerland coordinated all the logistics for the event and Mike from the maintenance team was there, all day, and late, to make sure everything worked and to handle our requests. They were super!!
“The sun even came out, WHAT A DAY!” Yes, indeed, and what a day it was for Clay Roberts – Bainbridge’s Mr. Pickleball!
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