Welter named 2017 Florida Senior Games Male Athlete of the Year
One of the most decorated pickleball players in the world calls Cape Coral home.
Mike Welter, who’s been dominating courts across the country for a decade, may have just added his most prestigious accomplishment to his collection- being named the 2017 Florida Senior Games Male Athlete of the Year by the Florida Sports Foundation, the first pickleball athlete to do so in the 26 years of the honor.
The award is given each year to one male and female, age 50 or over, who shines in athletic competition in whichever sport they may play.
“I’m very humbled, and very proud,” Welter said of being named male athlete of the year, which came as a bit of a surprise to him.
“They look at all the different senior sports, and all of the athletes, and they picked me?” he said modestly.
Welter was named along side female athlete of the year, Carol Teel, a bowler.
“It is an honor to recognize these two individuals as the Florida Senior Games Athletes of the Year,” said Marvin E. Green Jr., vice president of Amateur Sports & Events in a statement. “A culmination of each athlete’s commitment, dedication, and enthusiasm for their respective sport has set them apart as each receives this honor. We are appreciative of Carol’s and Mike’s continued support of the Florida Senior Games and know that they have set the bar high for this year’s athletes in the ‘race’ for next year’s prize.”
Welter, a retired Marine Corps colonel, got involved in pickleball after switching over from tennis a decade ago, and fell in love with the sport and the people who play.
“The people that we’ve met are competitive people, they’re social people-just a lot of classy people that we really enjoy their company,” he said.
It’s a game for old and young alike, bringing people together from all walks of life to enjoy athletic competition, while having fun and building relationships.
“I’ve found that the people that are in the sport are enthusiasm-addicts. I’ve played games with an 8-year-old girl, a 92-year-old man, and everything in-between. It’s not just for old people, it’s for young people as well,” said Welter. “I got to where I was playing seven days a week, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I really enjoy the sport.”
Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing athletic activities in the world, as Welter noted there has been a 650 percent growth in the sport over the past few years.
“The sport has grown exponentially,” he said. “What’s really exciting to me is Cape Coral.”
With the recently passed GO Bond in the Cape, the Parks and Recreation Department’s plans for a pickleball complex to be built by Lake Kennedy should come to fruition this year, something Welter is ecstatic about.
“When those courts are built, it’s going to really grow pickleball here in the Cape,” he said. “I’m very excited for it to be built, and I’m sure that every day that place will be packed.”
The sport has taken Welter to many cities and states across the country, participating (and dominating) in tournaments where he always seems to build friendships.
Being in Southwest Florida, a popular travel destination, Welter has made connections with fellow pickleballers who invite him and his wife to enjoy the sport in other regions.
“My wife and I have traveled and gone to pickleball events, or to visit pickleball people all over the country. We’ve gone to Mexico, we’ve gone to South Dakota, we’ve gone to Califor-nia, we’ve gone to Las Vegas, we just got done going up to Pittsburgh and visiting people and playing pickleball. It’s a big national, or even international social network of people to play with.”
Though what Welter most enjoys about the game is the people, he’s not too shabby with a paddle in his hands either, taking a cerebral approach to the sport, which has given him tremendous success.
“When you get into a big match, there’s a lot of thought that goes into pickleball. It’s like a chess match,” he said. “It’s not just whacking the ball it’s placing it, touching it, lobbing it, deciding what shot is going to work or isn’t, because the court’s very small, and if you have two big people across the court, you’ve got to put the ball in the right place.”
Cape Coral’s first Senior Athlete of the Year has amassed over 100 medals during his time in the sport, collecting 22 state championships between singles and doubles competition across six different states.
His favorite memory is playing in the World Super Seniors event in Georgia, where he won two gold paddles, dubbing him “World Champion.”
“I don’t even remember driving home from Georgia, I was just floating all the way home,” he said.
Home is where he wants to see the game flourish the most, as he is an advocate for the game in Cape Coral.
“Though I am not officially an ambassador, I assure you I am an ambassador for the sport,” said Welter. “I have worked with many people. I’ve given free lessons here in the Cape. I always have people coming up asking me questions about the sport, and I take time to answer them. I play pickleball with everybody from young, to old, to beginners, to pros-just to get out and play and be social.”
For those who may not be familiar, the sport is a combination of badminton, tennis and table tennis, and players use paddles to strike a perforated polymer ball, similar to a wiffle ball, over a net.
According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, pickleball has over 2.8 million players nationally.
Welter has even passed the torch to his family.
His nephew, Kyle Yates, a Fort Myers resident and former Cypress Lake High School tennis player, is regarded at the No. 1 pickleball player in the world, thanks to his uncle getting him to try the sport.
Welter’s thoughts on why anyone should give pickleball a chance?
“It’s something you can do with your family, something you can do all by yourself, there’s no restrictions. You don’t need anybody else to go to a court and get into a pickleball game. As soon as you show up, you put your paddle in line, and you go play and you meet people.”
Welter, along with Teel, will be recognized by the Florida Sports Foundation in December for their accomplishments.
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