By Robert Nibarger, USA Pickleball Junior Committee Chair
Before COVID-19, a Junior pickleball duo stole the hearts of all who watched at the Hawaii Open held at Holua Tennis and Pickleball Center in Kailua-Kona in Hawaii. Kylena Paredes (12 years old) and John Greenwood (a.k.a. KonaJohnny (13 years old)) earned Silver in the 3.0 Mixed Doubles Adult Division. Why is this noteworthy? Aside from their age, pickleball had brought a girl from Hawaii and a boy from Canada to partner up and show how fiercely they could compete at a major tournament.
The team complimented each other as Kylena provided unsuspecting power while KonaJohnny provided strategy to their play. Though young and small in stature, they are both powerhouses at the net! The two beat some very tough and respectable adult opponents and surprised many onlookers including pros like Michelle Esquivel and Rob Cassidy from Team Engage. They even got to play at Center Stadium.
In addition to their success in mixed doubles, both Kylena and KonaJohnny also won in other categories. Kylena also won a Gold Medal in the 3.0 19+ Women’s Singles division as well as a Gold Medal in the Women’s Doubles 3.0 19+ with her partner Lien Vuong. KonaJohnny earned his second medal of the tournament the following day with a Gold Medal in the Men’s Doubles 3.0 19+ with his partner Seren De Fauw.
A few weeks later Kylena and KonaJohnny teamed up again in the Honolulu Club Pickleball Mixed Doubles Tournament and once again earned Silver. Sticking to their game plan paid off. With wicked drive serves, deep returns, and speedy feet, Kylena and KonaJohnny earned a Silver Medal in only their third tournament together.
Kylena’s success as a Junior Pickleballer was influenced by supportive organizations like Oahu Pickleball Association (OPA). She could count on OPA to host open play events and drill sessions in her neighborhood several times a week which allowed her to train with a variety of players. Kylena also has very supportive parents who coach her in foundational skills, strategizing, and the mental part of sports like perseverance and confidence.
Kylena and KonaJohnny hope to be able to play pickleball for their high schools and colleges when they get there and perhaps even set their sights to play at the professional level. With the right mindset, focus, and work ethic this could become very real in the next five years.
For Kylena and KonaJohnny, it’s not just about winning medals. These juniors exhibit heart and grit in the midst of adversity and also found a way to smile and have fun. Pickleball is one of the only sports that encourages diversity and inter-generational camaraderie naturally. If the older, more experienced players never offered to play with Kylena, she would not have been turned on to the sport. Two years later, Kylena looks forward to seeing pickleball friends of all ages and backgrounds at open play. Such is the case with KonaJohnny, a boy from Canada, and Kylena, a girl from Hawaii, where pickleball has started a friendship that otherwise would have never happened. In today’s social climate, unlikely friendships may be just what we need.
Content Interview: Elaina Paredes (Oahu Pickleball Association)