Chicago Pickleball League tournament comes to Lincolnshire
David Welles isn't just the director of the Chicago Pickleball League.
He's a player, too.
A former 12-inch softball player in Chicago and Northbrook, Welles' desire for competition has shifted to where he has become addicted to pickleball.
He is like millions of other fanatics of a sport Welles characterized as “life-size Ping-Pong.”
According to a 2023 Sports & Fitness Industry Association report on usapickleball.org, participation in the sport has grown by nearly 159% over the last three years.
Welles, who cleared out a spot in the backyard of his Riverwoods home to install a court, is embracing the movement with the creation of the Chicago Pickleball League, modeled after the professional Major League Pickleball circuit.
Formed in November 2022, the Chicago Pickleball League will offer its third team tournament from 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday at College Park Athletic Club in Lincolnshire. People may attend and watch.
Six teams of four players, each team captained by female pickleballers who conducted a draft to form their squads, will vie for a prize that is certainly life size.
Audio Visual Design Group (AVDG), Prestige Distribution, ProXR Pickleball and Spear Training Center have combined to put up a $5,000 purse, winner takes all.
“We have six national champions, there are numerous 5.0 gold medal champions in this,” said Welles, also a boys lacrosse coach at Deerfield High School. “We tried to take 24 of the best 50, 60 players in the area.”
The 5.0 number refers to a rating system called “DUPR” — Dynamic Universal Pickleball Rating, a scale ranging from 2.0-8.0 based on tournament results against other players and teams.
Jerry Huo of Chicago — the No. 1 draft pick — owns this tournament's highest DUPR rating at 6.033. Welles is at 5.038.
Aiding equity through the drafting process, which was led by East Dundee's Jenn Jacobs, Palatine's Liz Chaplinsky and Liz Manofsky, Elmhurst's Caroline Mulloy, Hinsdale's Jenn Gallwas and Yorkville's Bridget Aguado, the six teams have cumulative ratings ranging from about 20.2 to 21.0.
“There's no weak spot in any of the teams,” said Dale Zwack of Bartlett, who has attained a 5.652 rating since he picked up the game in 2019. That DUPR trails only Huo in the tournament.
Zwack has got to be a popular player. A Minnesota native who played baseball at Winona State University, he is a design engineer who specializes in racquet sports at Wilson Sporting Goods' Innovation Center in Schiller Park. High-end pickleball paddles sell for between $150 and $300, he said.
Zwack has learned that in this sport, less is more. He equated it to chess, where placing the hard, wiffleball-like ball to certain spots to set up a later shot is better strategy than pure power.
“You try to minimize your own mistakes because your opponents are not going to make a lot of unforced errors, either,” he said.
The tournament Saturday will feature a fast-paced format in which matches will last 15 minutes rather than end with a winning score of 11. Winners of each best-of-three series will be determined by their total number of points.
Welles' ultimate goal is to establish the Chicago Pickleball League as an eight-week league in which players compete against their peers in lower, intermediate and advanced levels.
For now, there's $5,000 at stake.
“None of us want to lose, but we're all friends and we all have good camaraderie between all the teams,” Zwack said. “It's just fun to compete against your friends.”