The love of the game of pickleball and quest for world record pair unlikely athletes
|Published: 05-24-2023 5:50 PM
On Sunday, an unlikely pickleball enthusiast took to the court. “You got this, governor!” shouted a woman in the crowd of 14 spectators.
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch was preparing to play against Dean Matt, aka “The Pickleball Pilot.” Matt landed in Concord just an hour earlier, stop number 37 on his pursuit of a world record: the fastest time to play a game of pickleball in the 48 contiguous states. Matt and his partner compete against politicians, football players and pro-pickballlers. On his New Hampshire stop, Matt wore a bow tie, which indicated a political opponent in Lynch.
Lynch started playing pickleball 20 years ago, far before the craze hit America, and has played many times in this very arena at the Concord City Wide Community Center. His entire family shares a love for the game – his son, 30, and daughter, 35, both play and the family has a pickleball court in their driveway.
“It’s competitive but it’s also social,” Lynch said. He loves the game because the learning curve is fast and “you can do some trash talking.”
Matt flies his six-passenger Turbo Cessna 206H to each state.
“We’re just telling 48 different stories across the United States,” said Matt. The duo played in New York and Vermont that morning and were headed to Maine in the evening.
Matt’s usual partner, Shannon Yeager, stepped out of the challenge for a few days due to a business commitment but will join Matt for their last game in Florida. His interim partner Curt Lampke is subbing in for four days and 11 states, including Concord on Sunday.
Wearing identical neon orange Tyrol sneakers that mimicked the color of the pickleball itself, Matt and Lampke competed against Lynch and his partner, Ken Moulton, all in matching “Concord” apparel.
According to USA Pickleball, the sport, reminiscent of a life-sized ping pong game, has been the fastest growing sport in America for two years in a row, with 4.8 million players in the U.S. as of 2022.
“I absolutely predict that it will be in the Olympics in the near future,” said Lynch.
Matt is newer to the game than Lynch. He intended to take on the same challenge for golf, but a hip replacement pushed him toward pickleball instead. He was a CFO in the cannabis industry and author of Gone to Pot before he sold his company, retired, and pursued this world record.
He loves pickleball for its welcoming community and the ease at which he can play with his hip replacement, but this challenge also gives him a break from the mayhem of daily life. He is a consistent consumer of political TV and appreciates the apolitical nature of the game. “For the last 21 days, I haven’t talked about politics at all,” he said.
Matt also views the excursion as “as much an aviation adventure as a pickleball adventure.” He likes to observe the makeup of America from overhead. “There’s so much open space here,” he said. “It’s a shame we can’t all get along.”
The event kicked off with a warm-up match.
Then, at 2 p.m., the official game began. It was clear from the start that Ken Moulton and his wife, Jackie, who stood in for Lynch in the official game, would be victorious.
Matt and Lampke engaged the audience through self–deprecation. The score was 9-1 in a game played to 11 when Lampke shouted to Jackie across the net, “Who are you? We were told we were gonna play a governor with a bad hip!” The audience and the pickleballers laughed.
Comments such as “she put him on his back hand” and “wow, lots of spin” were popular among the viewers, with many from Concord.
Finally, the Moultons scored their last point, leaving the score at 11-1. “We’re lucky we didn’t get pickled,” Matt said, lingo that refers to an 11-0 loss.
Curt Lampke approached the Concord Monitor after the game concluded and the players shook hands. “Don’t print that, we got smoked.”