In a pickle: Florida team challenges Mississippi leaders to a game of pickleball

Published 7:00 am Friday, April 28, 2023

Tuesday morning all the action will be at Vicksburg’s pickleball courts at Halls Ferry Park as two Sarasota, Fla., residents stop for a game while they try to set a world record for playing pickleball.

The Vicksburg courts are one stop on Dean Matt and Shannon Yeager’s attempt to play a pickleball game in each of the 48 contiguous United States in less than 48 days. They will face Ward 2 Alderman Alex Monsour and Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn in an 11 a.m. game at Halls Ferry Park.

“We’re going clockwise around the United States and it’s called the 48-48-48 Pickleball Challenge — 48 pickleball games, basically — I say matches — but it’s just a game in 48 states in less than 48 days. In fact, we’ll be back here May 26 if everything goes right,” Matt said.

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Matt and Yager begin their quest Monday with games in Mobile, Ala., and Baker, La.; Vicksburg is the third stop on the Challenge. From here, the men fly to Memphis for a Tuesday afternoon game.

Matt has developed a website for the challenge that includes a video explaining the challenge, a map showing the pair’s route across the U.S., their schedule and locations of games and a globe icon that enables people to track the pair’s Cessna Turbo 206 airplane as it crosses the country.

In planning the challenge tour, Matt said he contacted visitors’ bureaus in each state.

“They’re all very welcoming; they all have rolled out the red carpet, (and) probably no one better than Vicksburg,” he said.

Matt said the original plan was to play in Jackson but when that plan fell through they called Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Laura Beth Strickland “and she took the bull by the horns and she called me and said, ‘Dean, we could do this.’”

Monsour said pickleball “is just exploding everywhere; it is the most popular sport out there.”

Matt and Yeager, he said, wanted to be in a good place in Mississippi and heard about the city’s courts.

“I feel very fortunate that, you know, Vicksburg was picked out of the whole state which says something for building our pickleball facility,” Monsour said.

And while the challenge is one part of the trip, Matt said the other reason for the trip is to support pickleball and the local groups of players.

“At each one of our stops we’ll play just one game to 11 (points),” he said. “We’re going to play some local folks at each stop. Some of these people may be celebrities; they may be professional pickleball players. In a few states, we’re playing ex-governors. We might play regular guys. We’re playing a lot of different people.”

“In Memphis, for instance, we’re playing inner city kids. They’re gonna come out and play with us. In the next stop after that, in Jonesboro, Ark., we’re playing some Special Olympics folks. So just a little bit of everything. Every city’s got a story to tell, you know, so we’re just gonna tell it.”