NORTHBOROUGH – Northborough resident Tom Hays earned a moment of pickleball glory last month when he won a bronze medal playing pickleball doubles in the National Senior Games in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Hays and his partner, Donald Van Dyne, won their bronze medal in a double elimination competition for men aged 55 to 59. They competed in the 4.0 skill level, which was the second highest at the National Senior Games.
“It kind of validated where we were in terms of our ability and being able to compete on a national level with most anybody,” Hays said in a recent interview with the Community Advocate. “It was really quite an honor to be there and to have come back home with a medal.”
Pickleball offers next chapter in sports career
Hays first tried pickleball six years ago while visiting his father, who was spending winters in Florida.
Hays played tennis, and his father said that pickleball would be a good alternative for it that Hays would want to play as he got older.
Hays subsequently suffered an injury playing tennis that forced him to stop playing the sport. That’s when he was approached by pickleball instructor Karin Houghton, who was teaching pickleball at the Westboro Tennis and Swim Club.
“I took her advice and went out there and just fell in love with the game,” Hays said. “It’s very addictive, extremely addictive.”
‘We were stunned’
Hays began to get better at the sport through consistent practice and started traveling throughout the state to play pickleball.
Hays and Van Dyne eventually played in the Massachusetts Senior Games, where they won their division and automatically qualified to compete in the National Senior Games.
“It’s just amazing how quickly the sport is growing, and the quality of the players throughout the state,” Hays said. “There’s just so much decent competition right now in Massachusetts.”
At the National Senior Games, Hays and Van Dyne won three matches while losing two to the eventual gold and silver medalists in the competition.
Hays said that the competition moved quickly, adding that he did not realize at the time how well his team was doing.
“We were stunned,” Hays said. “In the preliminary rounds we had some tough matches and had no idea that we would be on our way to winning a medal.”
Hays said that he would compete in the National Senior Games again, although he was unsure whether he would attend next year’s event in Pittsburgh.
Northborough plans new pickleball courts
With team success on the national stage, Hays is part of an ever-growing local pickleball community.
Thriving, that community is set to soon gain a new venue as Northborough moves forward with work on a set of new designated pickleball courts at Ellsworth McAfee Park.
Speaking earlier this year, Northborough Recreation Director Allie Lane identified that project as one of the most hotly anticipated recreation building projects seen in her 20 years in town.
“I can’t wait for these new courts to open,” she said.