2015 State Games of America Pickleball championships

Don Simmons and David Zapatka

Don Simmons and David Zapatka

David Zapatka and Pat Latta

David Zapatka and Pat Latta

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Over 18,000 participants competed in over 70 sporting events in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska the first week of August. Events ranged from aquatics, basketball, fencing and cycling to hockey, lacrosse, tennis and pickleball.

Qualifications for the bi-annual State Games of America are stiff. Only competitors who won gold, silver or bronze medals in their state games disciplines are eligible to compete in the State Games of America. One exception; since Nebraska hosted the games this year, any Nebraska state resident was allowed to participate. Needless to say, when the parade of athletes entered Cornhusker Stadium, the state of Nebraska boasted the largest contingent. Similar to the Olympics parade of athletes by country, the State Games of America parade of athletes was by state. Arizona had a large contingent including the White Mountain Apache Indian athletes dressed in full native garb. Arizona’s state games are known as the Grand Canyon State Games and are held over two weeks every February.

Sun Lakes resident David Zapatka represented Arizona in the pickleball championships. Zapatka and his tournament-tough Arizona men’s doubles partner, Don Simmons, were the top seed in the 60 to 64 division. True to form, this powerful pair beat competitors from one state after another. The gold medal match pitted Zapatka-Simmons against the second seeded Texas pair of Thompson-Roberson. Twenty plus shot rallies were commonplace in this match as each pair played an exquisite soft game waiting for opportunities to smash an overhead or kill a winner. The points and games were long and the crowd was loud and appreciative showing their regional support for each pair. In the end, the Zapatka-Simmons pair prevailed in an 11-6, 11-6 beat down of the Texas pair.

Zapatka also competed in the 60-64 mixed doubles championships with Colorado medal winner Pat Latta, a six foot tall volleyball, golf and tennis star who has made a name for herself in pickleball throughout the Rocky Mountain State. In a star-studded field, with strong pairs from all over the country, this was a very exciting event. Zapatka-Latta were sent to the opportunity bracket of this double-elimination tournament early but battled back through pairs from Nebraska, Texas and Illinois only to meet Zapata’s nemesis, Byron and Marsha Freso from Florida in the gold medal match. The most exciting match of the bracket was Zapatka-Latta vs. Illinois pair Azeka-Wagner. Falling behind early, Zapatka-Latta had to make major adjustments just to get back in the match. Joan Azeka was eating their lunch at the net with difficult angles and soft drops. After tying the game at eight, Zapatka-Latta lost their way again, called another strategy time out, saved five match points and caught up at 14-14 before winning this thriller 16-14.

The final against Freso-Freso was high-level pickleball and very entertaining. Zapatka-Latta led in both games until the dominant Freso-Freso pair asserted their dominance and took the match 11-6, 11-8.

Congratulations Arizona competitors on your outstanding performances!