Marriage thrives on pickleball court

<p>Blake Sebring | For The Journal Gazette</p> <p>David and Kathy Lentz will compete this week at the USA Pickleball National Championships in Indian Wells, Calif.</p>

One of the quickest ways to test a marriage is for the couple to become teammates in a sport. If their relationship can survive, they've got long-term chances.

In fact, David and Kathy Lentz have survived and thrived well enough to make it all the way to the USA Pickleball National Championships this week. They'll join a large contingent of Fort Wayne players in Indian Wells, California, after the event was canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both the Lentzes have extensive tennis backgrounds.

David, 54 and a family physician, played on some of the better Homestead teams, and Kathy, 52 and a recruiter for Integrated Talent Solutions, became one of the better female players in Fort Wayne as she picked up the game after meeting David at IU.

She came to pickleball first about three years ago, and he thought she was a little nuts because she was playing so much. Then she persuaded him to give it a try about two years ago. Now they are competing in the 50-and-older 3.5 division at nationals.

“It's a completely different mentality because of the emotions with someone that you live with and are married to, you have to let them go very fast,” Kathy said. “You have to remember that. David and I had an adjustment period where we would argue a little bit and take it a little personally. He was always worried about taking my balls and being too aggressive. We got to the point where it was like pretend like I'm someone else, and I'll pretend you are someone else and treat them the same way.”

In other words, what would you say to a partner you weren't married to? If the conversation didn't fit inside those parameters, skip it. The key is not acting like they are married when they are playing.

“The right attitude is just keeping it fun,” David said. “The best part of it is it's such a quick game you don't have time to sit there and argue over a point because the next one is coming.”

Pickleball is also so much quicker than tennis that play is based more on reaction time than planned shots. It's hard to get angry with a partner who can't react quicker because no one could.

“Not very many people play pickleball together as a couple because it can get a little bit personal,” Kathy said. “We decided we want to play pickleball together because I enjoy his game and playing with him and his personality, he's upbeat and positive. We just have to keep that on the same scale when we are playing. It really does help to think, 'Would I say this to another partner?'”

To prepare for nationals, the Lentzes have been playing three times a week, often going paddle-to-paddle against male doubles teams.

“It's why we have so much fun with pickleball because we do this together,” Kathy said. “I would never argue with some other guy, and he would never argue with some other girl. You just realize you are pickleball partners and that's it. If we're going to go travel and spend a weekend in a tournament, I want it to be with him.”

On their way to Indian Wells, the Lentzes are going to stop in Los Angeles to watch their nephew, Ben Skowronek, play with the Rams.

They have another nephew, Luke Goode, who plays basketball at Illinois, and another, Derek Green, who plays football at Southern Methodist. There are also nephews playing soccer at the Air Force Academy and for the Coast Guard, and nephew T.J. Green was also a football player at Northwestern and nephew Matt Skowronek played football at IU.

Their daughter Jordan was an outstanding volleyball player at Oakland University.

There are also more family stars coming through the high school system.

But none of them have advanced to a national tournament with their spouse.