NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo Lions Club’s second Pickleball Tournament, held Jan. 16 at New Buffalo Elementary School, attracted more than 40 players to vie for supremacy in a sport that regular participants have described as a mix between tennis and badminton with some ping pong thrown in there as well.

Lions Club President Mark Westerburg said the “fun tournament” raised about $1,000 for the organization’s community support efforts which include supplying gifts, gas cards and other types of assistance to those in need.

The club, together with Waters Edge United Methodist Church and private donations, recently delivered 22 Thanksgiving dinners in the area which included a turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole and rolls. Local Lions also are involved in projects to help make Christmas special for area families.

“The Lions aren’t really just about eyeglasses,” Westerburg said. “We’re a group that does a lot of community support stuff.”

He said 100 percent of proceeds from the tourney will go toward such efforts, adding that the club purchased the medals given out to winners so registration fees could all go toward projects that benefit the community.

“It’s one of the things we can do to create some fun and raise money at the same time,” he said.

Among those from the New Buffalo Lions Club helping run the event in the NBES gym were Pete Rahm, Dr. Jay Blackburn, Dan Pumfery, Frank Giglio, Rex Gotcher and Westerburg.

The first New Buffalo Lions Club Pickleball tournament, held on Oct. 24 at the middle/high school, drew about 25 players and raised funds for the Galloro family’s medical expenses.

Westerburg said plans are being made for a springtime event, possibly outdoors at the courts near the middle/high school if the weather allows.

“If the weather’s not good you’ve got to go inside, you’ve got to be prepared for both. The good news is the nets move easy — they’re freestanding,” he added.

There’s also a twice weekly Pickleball night in the Elementary School gymnasium beginning at 6 p.m. on Monday and Friday evenings. 

Jan Tomececk said she sends out emails to prospective players, adding that when the local sessions began last year maybe three or four players would show up. On Monday, Jan. 25, there were about a dozen people requiring four nets to be set up.

Sarah White, part of the runner-up mixed doubles squad on Jan, 16, returned to New Buffalo Elementary for the Jan. 25 open gym session.

“It’s a really great group,”  said White, who has been designated the “Pickleball Ambassador for Northwest Indiana.”

Westerburg said some of the Pickleball players competing in the Jan. 16 tourney were veterans of high-caliber tournaments.

Gerard Kralik of St. Joseph won the men’s doubles title with Jim Hogue on Oct. 24. On Jan. 16 he teamed up with Bill Conklin, and they had their work cut out for them with the larger field of competitors.

“There are some better players here this time around,” he noted.

They would end up finishing second in the division.

 John and Sarah Pace of Chicago competed in the mixed doubles portion of the tournament.

 They’ve been playing Pickleball for about two years — normally when they visit her parents out west.

“This is the very first tournament that we’ve entered … close to home,” Sarah said.

John said he’s always liked to play tennis, but he wasn’t strong when it came to serving — an aspect of the game less vital to Pickleball success.

“It’s easy to learn, pretty easy to play and the people are always really nice,” he noted.

One of the early matches of the day was won by Lance Anderson and Chris Christo, and it was a marathon despite going just two sets.

“It was a good workout,” she said.

Tom Rossman and his son, Nick, played as a team in the men’s doubles competition.

Tom said he first played Pickleball in the Oct. 24 tourney.

For Nick, Jan. 16 was his first exposure to the sport.

“I pretty much learned Pickleball 101 this morning,” he said.

There was also a women’s doubles division.

“It’s awesome, fantastic! A very good field of players,” said Barbara Starke of Coloma, who competed with teammate Nancy Lamore (they ended up claiming third place).

Stark said she’s been playing Pickleball for three years.

“I’m addicted, totally addicted … It’s a wonderful game. People of all levels can succeed at it,” she added.

One of the players who also took part in the Oct. 24 Lions Club tournament was New Buffalo High School sophomore Andrew Thomas. On Jan. 16 he competed in the men’s doubles division with his stepdad, Jeff Cederna.

The top three teams in each division in the Jan. 16 New Buffalo Lions Club Pickleball Tournament were:

• Mens Doubles — First Place, Bryan Rodgers & Joel Brussell; Second Place, Gerard Kralik & William Conklin; Third Place, David Plitt & Kevin Polaskey

• Womens Doubles — First Place, Cindy Benkert & Lori Bus; Second Place, Lisa Rich & Joni Catanese; Third Place, Nancy Lamore & Barbara Starke

• Mixed Doubles — First Placem Ted Marthakis & Cindy Benkert; Scond Place, Joel Brussell & Sarah White; Third Place, Kevin Polaskey & Barbara Starke.

Rookie of the Tournament Player honors went to Darrell Becker.

“There were a lot of good players here — it’s surprising that I got that,” Becker said.

Although it is increasingly involved in the New Buffalo Pickleball scene, providing eyeglasses and vision health support remains the main focus of the New Buffalo Lions Club’s community outreach efforts.

The Lions are currently involved in The Pokagon Fund Vision Program, which seeks to eliminate childhood vision problems in the area while also helping those over 50 years of age take care of their eyesight.

“We want to address vision problems starting in infancy,” said Rahm. “People in the service area (which consists of Zip Codes 49115, 49116, 49117, 49125, 49128 and 49129, which basically covers the New Buffalo and River Valley school districts) are eligible for a comprehensive eye examination starting at 9 months and up to 18 years. And we also have vision assistance for seniors (50 and older) based on income.”

The portion of the program aimed at younger residents does not have an income requirement.

In addition to eye exams, The Pokagon Vision Fund provides eyeglasses if needed. People can participate every two years.

Rahm said the program can even help pay the deductible for those who have insurance.

According to the New Buffalo Lions Club website, those that qualify and have a deductible that needs to be met first will have the cost of the exam applied to their deductible and the club will pay for the exam so that there is no out-of-pocket cost.

For more information on the program or to receive an application form, call (269) 405-LION, visit the club’s website at www.newbuffalolions.org, or pick up a form at and Harbor Country Horizon Bank branch. Completed forms (with proof of residency) can be sent to: New Buffalo Lions Club, P.O. Box 26, New Buffalo, MI 49117. Processing normally takes four to six weeks.

Rahm said the Lions Club also provides assistance to those who don’t qualify for the Pokagon grant-funded program on a case-by-case basis.

The New Buffalo Lions Club meets on the first and third Wednesday of each month at El Rancho Grande Restaurant. During warm weather the meetings take place at Lions Park near the beach in New Buffalo. For more information, send an email to Rex@mocofloors.com.

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