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Another Tournament Problem Solved? Or not?

The biggest little problem in running a tournament, solved!

(Or….is it?)

When you think about running a pickleball tournament, there are, of course, many positives. Camraderie? Competition? Raising money for yer club? Working with friends towards a common goal? Big fun-n-the-sun? Check, check, and more check. Your thinking is correct – all good!

Unfortunately, if you then think about all the “issues”, e.g. the work, organization, publicity, sponsors,,you are right about all of those, too. Thankfully, over time people have developed technology, tools and processes to address some of the issues…e.g. struggles running the registration and tournament desk? – not as big a struggle anymore; now you have reliable software which can address much of your registration, sign-in, bracketing, and scheduling problems. The solutions are certainly evolving.

However, other problems, while perhaps smaller, just hang on. One smallish issue we’ve personally found annoying is having to rustle up four line judges for each Gold (and perhaps also for each Bronze) medal match as the brackets get played out. (Note: line judges for medal matches are not absolutely required per USAPA rules but are strongly recommended under Rule 14.C and 14.E. And NOT having line-judges in medal matches is a big no-no for most regular tournament players, who don’t want to expend psychic energy disputing line calls during a match!)

It gets tough because (often late in the day) many people have left, or are tired, or want to watch their friends play in the adjoining court. In addition a surprising number of folks are uncomfortable doing line-judging; in spite of the recent USAPA’s publication giving guidelines for line-judging, most folks have not read those guidelines and many simply aren’t sure of what’s required from them.

As a result, with few to choose from and if they are required per the tournament director, officials take whomever they can get, leading to this scenario as quoted from the above USAPA line-judge publication.

In many cases the need for line judges is filled by pleading for anyone not playing in
a match to man a line-judge position. Due to a shortage of line-judge candidates the person
who ultimately volunteers may or may not be qualified. Generally (their) lack of qualification is overlooked just to fill the position.

Granted, needing line judges only happens for perhaps 40+/- medal matches in a largish tournament, but still, if it’s decided that the tournament is using them, these matches can’t be held without line judges. And with either the referee desk’s or the referee’s having to trot up and down the sidelines, literally begging, this can delay the start of your last-matches-of-the-day by five to ten minutes, therein ticking off your spectators, frustrating your players and annoying your staff of take-down volunteers standing by to (a) close up shop for the night and (b) go home to a nice glass of something.

One potential solution was developed recently for tournaments local to Casa Grande, AZ.’s Palm Creek Pickleball Club and will be used shortly in the Duel in the Desert (major Tier Two tournament with 550 entrants) and next year at the USAPA Nationals, all in the same location. (We have no knowledge as to whether or not this has also been developed elsewhere as well!) At Palm Creek the solution was developed by Jerry Logemann, a Palm Creek full-time resident who has seen this struggle go on for years, and had seen creative solutions like holding Pizza Parties at the same time (in order to have a larger pool of still-unqualified candidates to choose from, LOL!) fall short of expectations.

The solution is actually quite simple. Jerry, who worked for years with Parks and Recreation departments in Cheyenne, Wyoming and himself refereed and officiated at hundreds of sporting events including basketball, softball, baseball, and volleyball games and tournaments both in the U.S. and as far away as the Dominican Republic, now develops groups of pickleball lines-people in advance. Together, they go through the guidelines, hold on-court practice sessions as well (possibly held when referees-in-training are also practicing), and then assigns the folks into intact teams of four people, each group of which has a separate name…e.g. Logi’s Liners, 50-50 (where the four people consisted of two married couples), Blue and Red (court colors, and two of the three National colors) and so on. A “captain” is assigned within each group.

When a medal match is upcoming, the referee desk announces which group will be officiating. The referee announcer therefore says something like: “There will be a gold medal match on Court One. Teams are (X and Y), Referee is (Z), and the line-judge team will be Logi’s Liners!” Logi’s Liners then meets at the referee tent (reporting to their captain), gets their placards (which they wear on their backs asking spectators not to disturb them while working), and hit the courts as soon as required.

The line-judge captain quickly goes over the duties with the referee. Typically line-judge duties include calling “out” balls, signaling “in” balls when asked by referee or players, and (on the baselines) calling foot-faults. Additionally the referee is advised that (per the rules) the line-judges can be asked for their opinion when the referee his- or herself could not see a contended call. (The line-judges are taught, however, to defer to the referee, who is the final authority on the courts, and who may overrule one of their calls.)

When testing the concept at early tournaments, he (and the refereeing staff) found the concept viable but needing a little tweaking. “It wasn’t perfect. We didn’t have quite as many teams. For the Duel in the Desert,” he says, “we’re gonna have as many as 12 or 15 teams. This will allow each team to work work one day and have the next day off!”

Jerry also indicates he may increase the size of each team to perhaps six people. “We should have realized this, but some members of the team themselves made the medal rounds, and weren’t available for line-judging! But,” (as he also said), “it’s already making a difference! We’re excited about that!”

Tom and Jeanne Gearhart, famous for the excellence of their training of referees and for their nearly-decade-long commitment to running a premier referee desk, are also pretty pumped. “There were a few glitches early on, but Jerry is very aware of them,” Tom said. “We’re convinced the concept is great, and we we see this as having one less stressful task to do at the end of some very long days!”

OK, so it ain’t perfect, but what is? It’s a great start, and we’re interested in how this concept evolves and codifies over time. Undoubtedly other refinements either already exist (and we just don’t know about them) or will come up. But for right now, this is a whole lot closer to solving the “little” line-judge issue than anything else we’ve seen!