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CPS Celebrates Inaugural Elementary Pickleball League

Cincinnati Public Schools is serving up a new opportunity for the District’s youngest athletes. The newly created elementary pickleball league exposes students to one of the country’s fastest-growing sports. 

Students from AWL, CANS, Woodford Academy and Kilgour School participated and competed for four weeks during the pilot pickleball season, playing at the Walnut Hills High School Tennis Bubble.

“We’re excited,” CPS Athletics Manager Josh Hardin said. “We’re not hearing about a lot of this happening in other places.”

Instructor and KidLarry Blundred, Ollie Otters Enterprises Founder, author and pickleball enthusiast echoed that sentiment.

“We're really pioneering here in Cincinnati through the Cincinnati Tennis Foundation and Cincinnati Public Schools. I don't think there's any other school district that's going to embrace it and roll it out like you are,” Blundred said.

Blundred’s generous $13,000 donation made the inaugural season, in partnership with the Cincinnati Tennis Foundation and Walnut Hills High School, and an effort to increase pickleball access during physical education classes, possible. 

He’s also donated his time to help grow an appreciation for the sport amongst its youngest players.

“Pickleball is a sport that brings kids together. There’s a lot of community associated with it. Anybody can play, whether you have one leg or two, you’re in good shape, bad shape. It’s different. It’s fun. It’s easy to play and you can play anywhere,” Blundred said. 

While the program started with four schools, Hardin hopes to see participation double during the next season in the 2024-25 school year.

“We know we have over 35,000 students and we’re just trying to find something for every one of them. Some kids may love tennis. Some kids may love basketball. A lot of the kids are outside playing football, but we know that we’re going to find some kids that find pickleball is their thing and they may take that on into high school, college and beyond,” Hardin said. 

Ryan Nathan Fitone Lobe is among the students hooked on pickleball, loving to play the game with his friends and learning to “try his best and never give up.”

“We are incredibly thankful to the Cincinnati Tennis Foundation and Larry Blundred with Ollie Otter Enterprises for supporting our elementary pickleball program in its inaugural season,” Brent Langhorne, CPS Elementary Athletics Coordinator, said. “Their dedication to growing the sport is what inspired this program and we look forward to a continued partnership to expand the game and provide additional pickleball opportunities to students throughout the District.”

Each participating student was gifted one of Blundred’s books, a paddle and a ball to play at home.