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Jazlene Montes – PFA Youth Profile No2

Jazlene Montes – PFA Youth Profile No2

Jazlene Montes Paddleball Youth Profile No2

Something beautiful is happening in the sport of paddleball. The youth seeds are starting to take root on the indoor and outdoor courts. Jazlene Montes, most know her as Jazzy, is one of those paddleball seeds starting to sprout into a beautiful flower that lights up the courts with her easy smile. Yes, kids like Jazzy are turning the paddleball courts into beautiful gardens!

Jazzy is one of the promising members of the PFA Paddleball Youth Clinic program. She is ten years old, a bit shy and has an infectious smile that makes you want to cheer for her. The youngest of four sisters and two brothers, Jazzy started playing paddleball about a year ago on the courts of Castle Hill Park, also known as “The Pit”. This princess has all the tools of a future paddleball queen: She is long, quick on her feet and has good hand-eye coordination. Paddleball is in her DNA. Her mother, Suly Ruiz, is an outstanding handball player, who in just over a year of playing paddleball, has put the sport on notice by winning and placing in a number of open tournaments.

Jazzy originally started playing handball on and off at the age of five. But by watching her mother play paddleball during the past year, she switched to the paddle and has embraced the game and developed a love for it. So much so, that paddleball has become her favorite sport. I asked her, “What do you like best about the game of paddleball?” Her eyes lit up with her beautiful smile, “Playing with friends and having lots of fun, which is one of the reasons I love the PFA paddleball clinic.” She enjoys playing in front of big crowds and having people cheer for her, especially when she rolls the ball out which, of course, is her favorite shot.

Her favorite subject in school is Art. She draws very well and proudly showed me some of her drawings of horses on her phone.  She is also an avid animal lover and has a female dog named Lulu, a cat and a bunny, and she rides horses. Because of her love for animals, she wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. For Jazz, a perfect day is riding horses at Orchard Beach and writing about the day.

She likes to watch the video game “Road Blocks Kids” on YouTube. Her favorite movie is Disney’s “Moana”, the legendary demigod whose goal is to save her people. Jazz loves to watch the “Sponge Bob” TV show with her 18 year old sister. I asked her what super power she would like to possess. “I would love to be able to talk to animals in their own language.” With that infectious smile, she should not have any problem communicating with animals, or human beings!

Jazzy #GotNext!

Mike Melendez PFA Paddleball Player Profile

Mike Melendez PFA Paddleball Player Profile

Mike Melendez Paddleball Player Profile No-36 by Dave Siegel

The Paddleball Family Alliance has inducted two greats into its Hall of Fame: Howie Hammer and John Bruschi. Everyone will agree that both are well deserving of this honor, but who should be next? You could make a case for several legends, but there is one player who must get major consideration because he actually qualifies twice! Mike I and Mike II. The paddleball world is well aware of Mike II, who is a present day top doubles player and the most significant contributor to the game since Mr. Paddleball, Howie Hammer. Without Mike’s tireless work during the past five years, the sport likely would have continued its downward spiral, but instead it is in the midst of a remarkable rebirth. But it occurred to me that some of today’s players may not be totally familiar with Mike I, who played in the golden age of paddleball and is the most dominant singles player ever.

Mike Melendez was born in the Dominican Republic and came to the United States at the age of fourteen, settling in the Bronx. He started out playing handball at Ogden Park and eventually transitioned to paddleball. One day a short time later, on his way to a Yankee game at the Stadium, as he passed the adjacent paddleball courts, Mike noticed a large crowd was gathered. They happened to be watching a paddleball tournament finals match and he stopped by to take a look. For the first time, he observed what paddleball played at a high level was like and loving what he saw, he immediately decided this is where he had to be. So Mike went back to Ogden and doing what he does best, he put in hours and hours of practice time. When he felt he was ready to move up to a higher level, he went back to the Stadium, but much to his chagrin, he was frozen out of the good games by the cliquish players. This fueled his desire to succeed even more and he persisted of course, and in a short time, he made it into the “A” game and eventually took great glee when he beat them all!

Throughout his life, he has had an intense desire for excellence and to strive for success. It is obvious that to him the only way to achieve his goal is through hard work and dedication. He didn’t get to be a great player with only his natural talent. Why singles? He now says that he gravitated to the singles game because he was in control of the court, not relying on a partner, and unlike present day, singles was big-time back then. He also loved (and still does) to practice his game without a partner. His training regimen is legendary, spending long hours perfecting his repertoire of shots. Back in his heyday, he would play or practice five hours a day, every day. Realizing that the angle serve was a great weapon in singles, Mike would place a can of soda in the corner by the short line, aimed for it with serve after serve, and actually hit it often. It also helped that he was a tennis fan and the great singles player Bjorn Borg was his sports idol. Mike Melendez went on to dominate the singles game during paddleball’s golden age, highlighted by winning six of seven Budweiser singles titles from 1980 to 86.

What type of player is Mike Melendez? He was (and is) a very offensive player, relentlessly attacking the ball using great angle shots and jams to put his opponent on the defensive, setting up his deadly put-away kill shots. But he is also a complete player who enjoys playing defensively. His motto is “Play the ball, do not let the ball play you.” Back in the 80s, Mike played paddleball with all his heart and soul, his life centered around the game, feeling that it would become his career. With the half million or so players in the tri-state area, major sponsorship in site, Mike says that he truly believed that paddleball was about to propel to a national game and become the next major sport. But, sadly, this was not to be.

In 1987 Mike took a “brief” 25 year hiatus. He took up a new sport: marathon running. As we all know, distance running requires intense training and Mike was surely not adverse to that. He ran ten marathons, finished them all, achieving a best time of 3:11. He also took up tennis, and became a “pretty good” player (his words). I bet he’s better than pretty good.

How did Mike II come to be? In 2012, he happened to stop by Van Cortlandt Park and watched some paddleball, and as he says, “a fire ignited inside me.” Also, he had become plagued by an ailing knee and had come to realize that covering a large tennis court was not the greatest idea. So Mike decided it was time for his paddleball comeback. Now living in New Jersey he, of course, practiced and practiced by himself near his home and when he felt he was ready, he returned to the game. Now a part of paddleball again, Mike took a step back and didn’t like everything he saw. Most of the players at the courts were playing racquetball, not paddleball. But the worst was that everyone was old! Where were the young adults and the kids? It’s great that older people played paddleball, but Mike knew the game would die out if there was not a big infusion of youth. And then it hit him: Paddleball was a great sport back in the 70s and 80s, but the key to its decline was that we forgot to invest in the youth! Mike was determined that we don’t make that mistake again!

In 2013, with the same dedication and hard work that defined Mike’s youth, he formed the Paddleball Family Alliance and it became a great vehicle to promote the game, attract players back to paddleball and most importantly get the youth to take up the game and stick with it. From the start, he knew that he would need lots of help along the way and turned to his trusted paddleball friends like Hoppy, Mitch, Kathy and Ray S. and they did not let him down. As the rolling snowball grew, many others have volunteered their time to further the cause. Knowing that money would be paramount to getting things done, he set up the PFA as a legitimate non-profit organization, which facilitated the recruitment of business sponsorship as well as individual donations. And indeed there has been strong financial support. Obviously, communication was key. He formed the Facebook group and web-site and used other social media outlets that became important in spreading the word. In order for paddleball people to get to know each other better (as in Paddleball Family), Mike organized get-togethers of players across the tri-state area (PowPows) and fostered the paddleball profile program. He addressed the thorny issue of inappropriate behavior on the court with a new Code of Conduct and made sure the PFA held the players accountable. Knowing there were still gaps and ambiguities in the rules, Mike organized the update of the rulebook and continues to communicate it. Mike always felt tournament competition was one of the keys to growing the game and the PFA has sponsored many successful tournaments. But, unquestionably the cornerstone of the PFA is the youth program: the successful kids clinics, the kids exhibitions at tournaments, and in the pipeline, the introduction of paddleball into the NYC high school system. And don’t forget the PFA slogan: “It’s all about the kids!” Speaking to Mike now about children in paddleball, it’s obvious where his passion is. He just loves teaching and helping kids improve their lives through paddleball. Even if there was no paddleball, Mike would for sure be involved in youth programs and teaching.

What about Mike Melendez, the person? He is a proud family man, with his beautiful wife, Maggie, three grown-up children and three grandchildren. He says he’s retired, for now… What does that mean? In the past, he has played many other sports besides paddleball, tennis and running marathons, including baseball, basketball, bowling and speed skating. But now, it’s pretty much paddleball, which he now plays twice a week. He’s also a celebrity. During the era of his singles dominance, Mike starred in a Budweiser commercial. No, he was not guzzling a brew, he was playing paddleball! Unfortunately, as much as we’d like to see it, Mike says it’s unavailable. But he can tell us all about it and how it almost never came to be.

What does Mike feel is most important for the sport to continue its upward spiral? It’s addressing the most significant factors in paddleball’s downfall after the 1980s. First, people must get involved by volunteering their time in one way or another in mentoring the kids and keeping them interested. Secondly, it’s setting the example of good sportsmanship and to support the efforts to make it part and parcel of the sport. Also we have to accept that the big-ball game has emerged and has overtaken the traditional small-ball. Though Mike loves the speed of small-ball, the big ball is easier to control and the game is more spectator-friendly because the rallies are longer. But at the end of the day, “It’s all about paddleball!”

Mike Melendez has become paddleball’s leader and inspiration. He has this message to everyone involved in the game today: “I want to thank all of my peers that are volunteering their time and energy in promoting our beloved sport of paddleball. Together we can do it. The future of paddleball is looking great!” Mike Melendez, You Got Next!

 

Omaris Journet – PFA Paddleball Player Profile

Omaris Journet – PFA Paddleball Player Profile

Omaris Journet PFA Paddleball Profile 35 by Kim Ramos

Omaris Journet has a big smile and an easy laugh. But don’t let that fool you! She is a dynamic left-handed competitor, always striving for perfection on the paddleball courts. Amazingly, she has been playing Big Blue for just over a year and is already one of the top female players in the game, never afraid to scrape a knee diving to get her shot. However, for Omaris her success in paddleball is not a surprise. Once she decides to do something, she expects nothing but the best from herself. She is a natural athlete and combined with her dedication, the sport comes easily for her.

On most weekends Omaris, also called Omi by her friends, drives down from Connecticut to play at her summer paddleball home of Orchard Beach or Zerega during the indoor season. Omaris has been playing racquetball for the last 11 years, but like many players over the past year, she has transitioned to the Big Blue game.  She enjoys the sport of paddleball as a good cardio workout that’s good for all ages and provides a great sense of community/family.

There isn’t a player she models herself after, preferring to develop her own game. In describing her game, Omaris says she is not sure if she has developed her own style of play yet, but she likes a deep court shot and a chest shot. Her goal is to be consistent whenever she steps on the court. One player she enjoys watching and playing against is Miriam Silva. She says, “I do enjoy watching and playing against Miriam as I think she is a great player and she brings out the best in me.”

We asked Omaris what she thinks is needed to grow the sport and her response was, “I think the sport needs a lot more exposure (nationally). Our youth needs to be recruited to the sport in order for it to grow, and getting younger players sponsored will also help. Having conversations with racquet/paddle brands such as Gearbox and teaming up with them to host tournaments or jump in with the racquetball tourneys throughout the country would also help. Paddleball needs more money. Consider what handball has done to grow the sport: more money = more people = younger players = Bigger Sport! Handball players are great athletes that can help paddleball grow, as they have shown that the transition into paddle for them is pretty easy. But there has to be an incentive and for them; it’s money!”

Omaris has this advice for her fellow players “Do not let this game define you because this is not what you’ll be remembered for. Your legacy will be who you are and what you do off the court.”

Omaris’ athleticism is on display in the many other sports she participates in. She is a very good volleyball player, swimmer, softball player, and snowboarder. She also really enjoys playing table tennis, which gives her the good hands she possesses on the paddleball courts. One of her goals is participating in a triathlon before she reaches the age of 50.

Her interests outside of sports include her love of dogs; her favorite food is a good Vianda con gazpacho and she can play a mean clarinet.

Omaris Journet is quite a well-rounded person and athlete, and one of the up-and-coming stars of the paddleball game. This writer urges you to watch this dynamic lefty on the courts!

Omaris Journet – PFA Paddleball Player profile

Omaris Journet – PFA Paddleball Player profile

Omaris Journet PFA Paddleball Profile by Kim Ramos

Omaris Journet has a big smile and an easy laugh. But don’t let that fool you! She is a dynamic left-handed competitor, always striving for perfection on the paddleball courts. Amazingly, she has been playing Big Blue for just over a year and is already one of the top female players in the game, never afraid to scrape a knee diving to get her shot. However, for Omaris her success in paddleball is not a surprise. Once she decides to do something, she expects nothing but the best from herself. She is a natural athlete and combined with her dedication, the sport comes easily for her.

On most weekends Omaris, also called Omi by her friends, drives down from Connecticut to play at her summer paddleball home of Orchard Beach or Zerega during the indoor season. Omaris has been playing racquetball for the last 11 years, but like many players over the past year, she has transitioned to the Big Blue game.  She enjoys the sport of paddleball as a good cardio workout that’s good for all ages and provides a great sense of community/family.

There isn’t a player she models herself after, preferring to develop her own game. In describing her game, Omaris says she is not sure if she has developed her own style of play yet, but she likes a deep court shot and a chest shot. Her goal is to be consistent whenever she steps on the court. One player she enjoys watching and playing against is Miriam Silva. She says, “I do enjoy watching and playing against Miriam as I think she is a great player and she brings out the best in me.”

We asked Omaris what she thinks is needed to grow the sport and her response was, “I think the sport needs a lot more exposure (nationally). Our youth needs to be recruited to the sport in order for it to grow, and getting younger players sponsored will also help. Having conversations with racquet/paddle brands such as Gearbox and teaming up with them to host tournaments or jump in with the racquetball tourneys throughout the country would also help. Paddleball needs more money. Consider what handball has done to grow the sport: more money = more people = younger players = Bigger Sport! Handball players are great athletes that can help paddleball grow, as they have shown that the transition into paddle for them is pretty easy. But there has to be an incentive and for them; it’s money!”

Omaris has this advice for her fellow players “Do not let this game define you because this is not what you’ll be remembered for. Your legacy will be who you are and what you do off the court.”

Omaris’ athleticism is on display in the many other sports she participates in. She is a very good volleyball player, swimmer, softball player, and snowboarder. She also really enjoys playing table tennis, which gives her the good hands she possesses on the paddleball courts. One of her goals is participating in a triathlon before she reaches the age of 50.

Her interests outside of sports include her love of dogs; her favorite food is a good Vianda con gazpacho and she can play a mean clarinet.

Omaris Journet is quite a well-rounded person and athlete, and one of the up-and-coming stars of the paddleball game. This writer urges you to watch this dynamic lefty on the courts!

Lil Anthony Rodriguez(Arod) PFA Youth Profile No1

Lil Anthony Rodriguez(Arod) PFA Youth Profile No1

Anthony Rodriguez – Youth Paddleball Profile No1 by Mike Melendez

He is a special kid, an “A” student, accepted to Amber National Elementary Honor Society, which is his proudest moment so far in his young life. He has his parents’ DNA for one-wall sports, hence he is one of the top students in the PFA Paddleball Clinic and is one of the most promising youth paddleball talents in the game today. At Zerega, Orchard Beach, Red Hook and other one-wall courts across the tri-state area, you can often find him practicing by himself, with other kids or with adults. Like his favorite superhero, “The Panther,” the kid is everywhere! It seems like his dream of being able to perform “teleportation” is already a reality!

Li’l Anthony Rodriguez, A-Rod, as he likes to be called, is the pride and joy of two outstanding paddleball and racquetball players: Anthony and Kim Rodriguez. He is 11 years old and is a heck of a paddleball player. To me there is no doubt that if he keeps playing, he will win many paddleball championships as part of the next paddleball generation. However, because he is such a good athlete, paddleball does not have his full attention. You see, at the moment, basketball is his favorite sport, but paddleball is right behind, a close second. I asked him what piqued his interest in playing paddleball. To my surprise, it was not his parents’ love of the game. “I saw a few kids playing at the PFA’s paddleball clinic at Zerega and wanted to join them.” Li’l Anthony likes paddleball because it “keeps me active, fit and improves my hand-eye coordination.” His favorite shot is the low serve, which he is proud of because it required lots of practice to develop. Even though his number one sport is basketball, his favorite thing to do is “play paddleball outdoors!”

I love to coach him because he is passionate about being the best and he strives for perfection by practicing every chance he gets – two qualities needed in life to be the BEST we can be. Li’l Anthony is by far the hardest working kid in the PFA Youth Program. It’s remarkable that at this young age, he is able to balance his sports activities with his schoolwork, while maintaining his “A” student status. His favorite day of the week is Wednesday, “because I’m able to attend school, play basketball and paddleball.” Like his favorite color, neon green, “Wednesday is bright and fun! It is the perfect day of the week!” What is the meaning of good sportsmanship on the court? “Have a good attitude and shake hands at the end of game. If a bad call goes against you, take it over and move on.” He loves the PFA clinic because it teaches him how to play the game better and enables him to meet new friends that can last a lifetime.

On the personal side, A-Rod’s favorite subject in school is Math. His dream is to become a professional basketball player. And who is his sport hero? Of course it’s A-Rod! But not Alex Rodriguez, formerly of the Yankees, it is his father Anthony Rodriguez, the paddleball player! His favorite movie, of course, is “Black Panther.” Jack Sullivan, who writes great kids stories about Zombie fighters, is his favorite author. With everything this special kid has going for him, it’s surprising to hear him say that he is shy and he feels a bit uncomfortable playing in front of big crowds, but the PFA clinic is teaching him how to relax and feel more at ease.

The Panther is coming to courts near you. A-Rod Got Next!