ALTA players become pickleball pros almost overnight!
BY Amy Bergin, Net News Contributor
Pickleball has become the fastest-growing sport in the world, and it is thriving here in Atlanta. The sport began in the mid-1960s when a few guys looking for something to do started playing on a badminton court with ping pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. They improvised with the court equipment, eventually lowering the net and moving the game to an asphalt surface since the ball bounced better. A decade later, in 1976, Tennis magazine published an article naming pickleball “America’s newest racquet sport.” Today, pickleball courts are popping up all over metro-Atlanta neighborhoods like wildflowers in spring.
Legacy Park in Kennesaw is one such area that now has four lighted pickleball courts that constantly are in use. These courts also are home to former tennis players Jay Buxton and Jake Tuchmann, now rising pickleball professionals. We hope their story serves as an inspiration for you to give it a try.
Buxton and Tuchmann are accomplished ALTA and USTA amateur tennis players whose paths crossed when Buxton moved into Legacy Park in November 2020. Buxton grew up in Marietta and attended Marietta High School, where he played on the varsity tennis team. After graduating in 2013, he attended the Georgia Institute of Technology and played on the club tennis team. Tuchmann was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and moved to Kennesaw when he was young. His family settled in Legacy Park, and he grew up playing baseball and tennis but was all in for tennis once high school started. In 2016, he earned a scholarship to play tennis for Lincoln Memorial University, located north of Knoxville, Tennessee. The pair started playing in T2 leagues out of Legacy Park, then played on the same men’s ALTA team, and continued playing mixed doubles. Their partnership would carry them into more T2 tennis seasons, Ultimate Tennis, and USTA tournaments. Then in the fall of 2022, this dynamic duo decided to dabble in pickleball and never looked back.
It’s late November 2022. They, along with Jay’s wife, Maranda, and her brother, Chris Dove, form a foursome to play more pickleball. It didn’t take long for their competitive drive to kick in, and they entered the Chateau Elan Pickleball Tournament in the Men’s 4.0 division in early December. After a full day of pool play with 12 men’s teams competing, they won the championship! This win gave them the confidence to enter more tournaments in Georgia and Florida. As of May 2023, they have played in five, winning three Gold medals and one Bronze medal. Their most notable finish came at the APP Daytona Beach Open this past February — a Golden Ticket Qualifier for Amateurs and Pros. This event was MMP (Medal Match Plus) sanctioned, which means there must be a referee for the winner bracket and consolation bracket finals, as well as the Gold/Silver and Bronze medal matches. They entered the Amateur Men’s Doubles 19+ 35+ (Skill/Age) and the 5.0 division seeded #10 out of 11 pairs. In their first match, they cruised past the #7 seed, then took on the #2 seed and defeated them 15-10. Their next round was against the #3 seed, which was close, and they came out on top. This win set up a match against the #1 seed. They were edged out 15-13 and the #1 seed went on to win the tournament, but Buxton and Tuchmann won a spot on the podium with third place, making them hungry for more. In addition to men’s doubles, they also compete in singles and mixed doubles divisions.
To take it a step further, both Tuchmann and Buxton have landed sponsors to provide equipment, nutritional support, apparel, and bonus earnings for winning. They are both sponsored by Envision supplements and Tyrol (shoes). For equipment (paddles & balls), Tuchmann is sponsored by Selkirk, and Buxton is sponsored by PCKL. While still considered “weekend warriors,” these sponsorships help pave the way for them to compete in the professional ranks. From here, the focus is building their ranking through playing events sanctioned by USA Pickleball or PPA (Professional Pickleball Association). “In a perfect world, I would love to do this as a career, but for now I will continue to dedicate weekends to traveling to tournaments and working my day job,” Buxton says. “We have to put the work in to be comfortable and competitive at the pro level. At this level, everyone has fundamentals, so it’s more about being strong mentally and having great footwork. For me, being tall is an advantage since the court is smaller than tennis.”
“It’s competitive for sure but still feels like a ‘beer league,’” adds Tuchmann, “so don’t knock it until you try it! It’s a very quick sport, but it’s also fun, easy to learn, and anyone can play. At the pro level, there is great sportsmanship while also being highly competitive. We meet so many people who love an active lifestyle, and I enjoy the social aspect of pickleball as much as I did with ALTA.”
They both credit their meteoric success in pickleball to having solid racquet sports fundamentals from tennis.
A recent Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) report finds pickleball now has up to 8.9 million players in the United States. The ALTA Pickleball League is forming using the fundamentals of league play that have served us well for more than 50 years. The first-ever league season has begun, and plans are in the works for more in 2024.
Will you be next to make the pickleball pivot?
ALTA Pickleball Launches Its Inaugural Season
ALTA Pickleball is here and kicks off in a big way on July 10. Rosters have been formed, and schedules have posted. We are starting this inaugural season with 233 teams and 3,771 players. You will want to try to win the first-ever ALTA Pickleball City Championship gold medal.
More clubs have either converted tennis courts to dedicated pickleball courts or placed permanent pickleball lines on their tennis courts to accommodate their members and to meet the demand. Therefore ALTA, as the tennis leader in Atlanta, also is looking to provide league play for pickleball players in Atlanta.
It’s an exciting time to be a part of ALTA, as we look to provide more fun, more social and competitive opportunities, more sponsorship offers, and more value to being an ALTA member.