Kathy Demetri, a fixture at high-profile pickleball events, wears many hats.
By Stephen Hunt -Red Line Editorial
FARMERS BRANCH, Texas -- Many in the pickleball community know Kathy Demetri as “Crazy Kathy,” a die-hard superfan who is always front and center at pickleball’s most high-profile events cheering on both the game’s top professional players and friends who play as amateurs.
“I like following the pros and seeing the amateurs,” Demetri said. “At what other event (but pickleball) can you see the pros and amateurs together? (It’s) very rare.”
At this week’s 2023 Biofreeze USA Pickleball National Championships powered by Invited and the PPA Tour, Demetri is playing in the amateur draw. Besides the professional players, she ranks as one of the more notable personalities at the tournament at Brookhaven Country Club in Farmers Branch, Texas, a northern Dallas suburb. It’s not uncommon to see fellow picklers say hello, stop her for a kind word or to pose for a picture — good vibes which she is happy to reciprocate.
Like numerous picklers, Demetri is a former tennis player who has shifted to pickleball, picking up her first paddle in her hometown of Pittsburgh in 2015 before recently moving to Hilton Head, South Carolina.
“I love a couple things (about pickleball) — it’s social, easy to learn, inexpensive to play and the camaraderie. In tennis, we can’t banter on the court like in pickleball,” Demetri said. “I do some teaching of pickleball. Where (else) can I teach someone to play a sport in an hour?
“That’s why so many people (love it). A lot of people don’t play competitions. They play socially. (They like to) play a little bit, get some exercise, (the fact it’s) easy to learn and then go out for dinner or whatever (with your fellow competitors) after. To be able to play against an opponent and then walk off the court and have a drink and converse is unheard of in some other sports. I don’t know where that comes from, but that’s the culture pickleball has. It’s very open, very social.”
When not playing tournaments or being one of the sport’s highest-profile fans, Demetri serves as an ambassador with USA Pickleball, a Level 2 referee and a teacher of the sport certified by the Professional Pickleball Registry (PPR).
In 2022, she played 28 tournaments. However, her court time in 2023 has been cut short due to an injury sustained under interesting circumstances.
“I was at Kent State for my daughter’s college orientation. We were riding scooters, and I shattered my wrist,” Demetri said. “I have a plate and 13 screws (in my wrist). That took me out from June through August, but I’m back playing again. I just played in Hilton Head last weekend, playing this (tournament in Farmers Branch), playing Pictona at the Diamond Regional. I think that’s all until the end of the year.”
Many know Demetri not only as a true pickleball ambassador who absolutely loves the game, but also as an avid player.
However, there is something a lot of picklers might not realize — what occupies her time when she’s not on the court or cheering for her fellow competitors.
“(No, I’m) not retired. I’ve been in the nuclear industry for 39 years,” Demetri said. “We design nuke plants for commercial electric generation. I’m a civil engineer by degree but work in the nuclear industry. Our department designs the safety systems for when there is an accident.
“I managed a project in Europe for 20 years where we developed a reactor design for the European Community. Then, we started building units in China and did a tech transfer, so since 2017 been working with the Chinese on how to learn (about) and build reactors in China.”
Demetri admits her “Crazy Kathy” persona at matches is what draws many fellow picklers to her. However, once a conversation drifts toward what she does for a living and people learn that she works in the nuclear industry, they often think she’s joking before reality sets in.
“This (pickleball) is my outlet,” Demetri said. “People tell me you’re making it up (that you work in the nuclear industry) because I act crazy (at matches). I tell them this is my outlet, so I can act crazy.”
And those who know her recognize her trademark bits. One is her affinity for squeezing a rubber chicken enthusiastically, a gift from a friend, during matches. Demetri’s other trademark is that she has an assortment of professional players’ heads on sticks, which she regularly displays while they are playing, gestures which the players appreciate.
“The heads started in 2015. Tyson (McGuffin) was the first head,” Demetri said. “We were going to the U.S. Open and McGuffin had been to Pittsburgh for a clinic. I asked could we cheer you? I thought let’s make heads, so I took five heads and we went down there (to the U.S. Open with them).”
Stephen Hunt is an accomplished freelance writer and sports statistician who has been blessed to cover a multitude of subjects and sports in his time. He is a freelance contributor to USA Pickleball on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.