| By Long Island Tennis Magazine Staff
Ocean Blaize (right), the winner of the Pickleball Plus Essay Contest, alongside one of the runner-ups Liam Burke (left).


Last year, Pickleball Plus became the first place on Long Island to introduce a junior pickleball program into its facility’s offerings. As the sport continues to grow in popularity, Pickleball Plus says it’s important to get kids involved in the sport from an early age in order to create a developmental pathway similar to the one seen in tennis.

To help encourage kids to take up the sport, Pickleball Plus creatively ran an essay contest where young people could submit essays on why they love pickleball, with the winner earning a full 10-week scholarship to its Junior Pickleball Academy.

“Pickleball Plus was built by and for pickleball players. We love being a part of this thriving community. We are proud to be the first to offer lessons for kids through our Junior Pickleball Academy, which has been growing consistently since we launched it in September,” said Dory Levinter, Pickleball Plus’ Manager. “Offering scholarships to help grow the next generation of pickleball players is just one of the many ways we can support our players and give back to our community.”

Pickleball Plus was flooded with essays from kids all over Long Island. In the end, Ocean Blaize, , had her essay selected, and was granted the scholarship into the academy.

“I just wrote about how much I love pickleball and how I first began playing,” said the 14-year-old Blaize. “I met a lot of my friends through pickleball, and it’s a great social sport where you get to meet a lot of people.”

Blaize was first introduced to pickleball through her father, who had played it with some of his colleagues at work, and one day decided to bring Ocean down to the local park to try it out.

She admits that she was a bit hesitant at first, not really knowing what the sport was beyond its funny-sounding name.

“At first I thought it was a weird sport. I actually thought it had something to do with pickles,” she said laughing. “But now I know that the name comes from the person’s dog who invented it. When we got to the park, I began playing with my dad and his friends, and now I love it.”

As she continued to play more often, her parents were looking for places that offered programming and lessons for kids. After trying several places last summer, they got in touch with Pickleball Plus, and have been there ever since. Blaize now participates in the Junior Academy there while her parents compete in leagues.

“The coaches are amazing,” Ocean said. “I love Coach Dory and Coach Mike. They are wonderful and are such great teachers. The group of kids there are really welcoming and nice.”

One of those kids is Evan Spolansky, who is also in the Pickleball Plus Junior Pickleball Academy, and who finished as runner-up in last year’s essay contest. Like Blaize, Spolansky loves the new friends he has made competing in pickleball.

“I really enjoy the drills and practicing my skills during the class,” he said. “I even participated in a Parent Child Social, where I got to play with my dad against other parents and their children. Pickleball is really fun and you can learn a lot of new skills. It’s a great way to meet new people while playing an exciting new sport.”

Both Blaize and Spolansky want to encourage their peers to try pickleball and help continue the sport’s spread among young people.

“Whenever I go to school, everyone knows I play pickleball, and they tell me, ‘Ocean, you play an old person’s sport’, and I tell them, ‘No, when you get into it, it’s really fun and competitive’,” Blaize explains as her sales pitch to her school friends. “I tell them to go for it. Don’t be afraid about what other people think; if you pursue what you like to do, and practice as hard as you can, you can do great things.”