Pickleball finds foothold in Joplin with help of P.E. teacher turned professional athlete

Sports

JOPLIN, Mo. — KaSandra Gehrke was originally a P.E. teacher, until her passion took her a different route.

“I introduced the sport to the kids. I got so addicted to it that I ended up quitting my job and going pro full time,” says Gehrke.

Gehrke didn’t abandon teaching altogether. She travels the country, teaching pickleball clinics and playing in professional tournaments.

“I’ll travel to a tournament of my choosing, there’s tons all over the country. You go, you compete, you compete for money,” says Gehrke.

She met her fiancee at a tournament and now lives in Springfield. Once a week, her new career takes her to Joplin, where she holds a pickleball league.

“I have the same group for four weeks, we have an hour and a half worth of league, and we just go over different types of drills, skills, and strategies for pickleball for everyone to try to improve their game,” says Gehrke.

She is able to share her knowledge with people of all ages and skill levels.

“Unlike tennis where you’re darting around all over the place, it’s low impact, it’s for all ages, and you know, you have anyone from 90 to 100 years old with eight to nine-year-olds,” says Gehrke.

John Hirshey, a local pickleball player, says, “It’s just great with people my age. I can’t play handball anymore. But I can play pickleball. But that’s what’s great about this sport.”

Through her love for the game, Gehrke has helped build a community that players love to be part of.

Vicki Sharp, another local pickleball player, says, “It makes you feel good. You develop friendships, lifelong friendships, new friendships. You just have a bond with everybody.”

“I think if this sport you have not tried before, I would definitely get out here to Landreth Park if you are part of this community, even if you don’t have a paddle, don’t know how to play, it’s so fun and social, you’re missing out if you haven’t played before,” says Gehrke.

Anyone interested in participating in one of Gehrke’s leagues can e-mail her at kasandramariepickleball@gmail.com.

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