Clay County pickleballers claim gold medals

  • (Sally Brock • Clay County Progress) Fred Sickel, left and Steve Champ battle the competition on their way to gold in their age bracket.
    (Sally Brock • Clay County Progress) Fred Sickel, left and Steve Champ battle the competition on their way to gold in their age bracket.
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Three Clay County pickleball players crossed the state line back home to North Carolina carrying gold medals from weekend play at the 2019 Georgia Mountain Pickleball Fall Classic in Hiawassee.

Men’s Doubles partners Steve Champ and Fred Sickel had a slow start and landed in the elimination bracket early on but then mounted a strong comeback through the afternoon. The two worked their way back through the double elimination bracket and captured the gold medal in Level 3.0, Age 70+.

Hayesville’s James Reaux paired up with Tom Roelse of Florida to compete in the Level 5.0, Age 50+ division. The 5.0 skill level is the highest in competition. Just as Champ and Sickel had started the morning, Reaux and his partner found themselves in the elimination bracket after a first match loss. However, the two came back strong as the afternoon matches progressed.

Competing in the elimination bracket, Reaux and Roelse were playing against corporate sponsored players and down 11-4 before steadily chipping away at the lead. Local fans watched anxiously along the fencing as the two tied up the game and then took the win 16-14 to earn the gold medal in their age division.

More than 325 players from throughout the southeast, Texas, Missouri and California competed in the annual three-day event held at the Towns County Pickleball Complex. The three full days of competition included Women’s Doubles on Friday, Mixed Doubles on Saturday, and Men’s Doubles on Sunday.

Competitors ranged from beginning players to professional level players representing several pickleball product companies. Players competed in brackets based on both skill level and age.  This year’s tournament hosted players ranging in age from 14 to 82 and saw an increase in younger players as the sport continues to grow.

Several Mountain Lakes Pickleball players attended the GMP Fall Classic to cheer on their fellow players who were in competition. Volunteers from throughout the area contributed to a very smoothly-run and successful tournament which is now recognized as a premier pickleball event for the Southeast.

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