Adaptive referee first to call USA Pickleball match

Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 6:39 PM EDT
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Opelika, Ala. (WTVM) - Currently the USA Pickleball 2023 Atlantic South Diamond Regional is underway at the Opelika SportsPlex.

But this year’s event has already brought about a significant milestone.

For the first time, in the organization’s history, an adaptive referee is actively calling matches throughout the tournament.

Anthony Ryan debuted as a USA Pickleball ref at this year’s Atlantic Diamond Regional on Thursday.

There’s just one thing that sets him apart from the rest, he happens to be calling matches from a wheelchair. But he’s not letting that stop him from calling the game he’s grown to love.

“To my understanding, there aren’t any other referees in the country at this point who are in a wheelchair. And being the first that’s great, but I think the most important thing to me is making sure, I educate and prepare myself to be the best referee I can be first and foremost,” Anthony Ryan, the first-ever adaptive referee to actively call USA Pickleball matches said.

Ryan has quite the athletic background.

“I played wheelchair tennis throughout North America for about 10-12 years. I burned myself out on playing sometime 12-15 tournaments in the summer,” Ryan said.

He would soon find out about the game of pickleball, and become hooked.

“I ran across pickleball at a local community center and started playing, was welcomed into the group there. Just kinda went from that point forward playing more so than anything. Until I ran across the option to referee and that caught my interest as well,” Ryan said.

Ryan is currently being assisted in matches by his certified referee trainer, Norman Clinkscales.

“From the start, he was very smart, receptive, teachable, and fun to work with. I love his attitude I love his work ethic, and we’ve been having a real good time. He’s refereed several recreational matches, and practice matches with me training him. I asked him to come up here to this tournament so I could work with him in real matches. He’s shown up today, started doing real matches, and is having a blast and doing quite well. We’ve got some good teaching opportunities here, and a lot of other referees that can share their knowledge with him. He’s just fitting in quite well” Norman Clinkscales, USA Pickleball Certified referee, and referee registered trainer said.

Overall, Ryan aims to show others who may have adaptive needs, that they can do this and encourages them to give it a shot.

“Come play pickleball. There is a huge shortage of adaptive athletes across the country, when it comes to pickleball. They play basketball, tennis, and ice hockey. You know so many other sports, but pickleball being new, there is an absence and I think if we could get more people involved in wheelchair pickleball that would be great for the game. And as far as refereeing that could be a progressive state as far as they catch the bug,” Ryan said.

As much as Anthony loves officiating the game, he also loves to play the game, he’s set to play with some of the other referees and players later on today.

He also encourages others with adaptive needs to participate, being he would like to spark more interest in the sport as well as have more competition to compete against when he’s not refereeing.

For anyone interested in learning more about USA Pickleball, head over to the organization’s website.