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Sarasota man attempts to play 48 pickleball matches in 48 states in 48 days

Sarasota's Dean Matt attempted to complete the 48-48-48 Pickleball Challenge last month.
Sarasota's Dean Matt attempted to complete the 48-48-48 Pickleball Challenge last month.
Courtesy photo
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The journey started in Mobile, Alabama. 

Then Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and Kansas City, Missouri. 

That was just the first three days.

Sarasota's Dean Matt went a whole lot longer than that. 

On May 1, Matt set out to complete what he was calling the 48-48-48 Pickleball Challenge: playing 48 matches of pickleball in 48 different states in 48 days or less. It would be a world record, Matt said, considering no one, to his knowledge, has ever attempted such a feat. Matt has had the idea for years, ever since watching a documentary called "The Iron Cowboy." The documentary revolves around James Lawrence, an Ironman competitor, who attempted to complete 50 Ironman events in all 50 states in 50 days. 

Lawrence's determination appealed to Matt, but so did the idea of traveling the country and completing a given task; it would be an excuse for Matt, who has had a pilot's license since he was in high school, to take his plane for a spin. His first plan involved golf, but a hip surgery put those thoughts to rest. When Matt and his wife, Luanne Matt, moved to Sarasota two years ago, they discovered pickleball, and suddenly Dean Matt had found the perfect sport for his trip. 

"The pickleball community is welcoming," Matt said. "It's not like golf where you need to wait for your foursome to show up to play. With pickleball, you can just show up by yourself if you want to. You see the same people out there all the time. And when you're playing, you don't get into politics or anything too much. You just play and socialize with your fellow Americans." 

A map of Dean Matt's planned stops on the 48-48-48 Pickleball Challenge. Matt started his trip in Mobile, Alabama, and ended it in Sarasota.
Courtesy photo

On May 1, Matt took off in his Cessna Turbo 206 and landed in Mobile, accompanied by his friend Ron Kenan. He always had someone with him, whether it was Kenan, his wife Luanne, or other friends Rod Anderson, Kurt Lampke and Jimmy Santangelo. Though he was calling it the 48-48-48 challenge — Hawaii and Alaska were just too far away — he had his eyes set on completing it much sooner than 48 days. Specifically, he aimed for 26 days. That's why he played in multiple states per day as often as he could. He also had help when sorting out the logistics of the trip. In some cities, Matt had friends who could accommodate him and set up matches to play. In others, he reached out to the visitors bureau for assistance. In all cases, he said, everyone was willing to help. He also received sponsorships from companies like Selkirk Sport, a pickleball paddle technology company, to help with the financial side of things. 

As fun as the actual game of pickleball is for Matt, it was almost beside the point, he said. His real aim was to showcase the different places pickleball exists, and the different people who play it. On his journey across the country, Matt played matches with politicians, like former New Hampshire governor John Lynch, as well as people like Minnie LaPoint, a 97-year-old from Kalamazoo, Michigan, who is a beloved staple of the pickleball community there. He also participated in a fundraising event for the Special Olympics while in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and played on a court outlined in chalk on an airport runway in Frederick, Maryland. 

The experience went smoothly, Matt said — except for two days in Salt Lake City, Utah, when ice-filled clouds filling the sky meant that Matt could not fly his plane. The inclement weather, which hit 18 days into the trip, forced Matt to make a decision: he could either ask each remaining city to move their accommodations for him forward two days, or he could skip four cities and then get back on schedule. In order to inconvenience as few people as possible, he chose the latter. It meant that Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and Nebraska got skipped. But once he was back on track, everything else went according to plan. 

After 8,200 miles flown, Matt ended the experience with a match back home at University Park Country Club against his friend Vince Golden, who is 93, on May 26. As good a time as Matt had, he was glad to be home, he said. The best part, besides getting to play a lot of pickleball for free, was seeing the entire country in a new light. 

"You see the farm fields and the mountains and the lakes," Matt said. "You see big cities like Boston and Chicago and Manhattan and all the humanity out there. And then out west, you see nothing, for miles and miles. And that's America. People like all over. Whether you live in a rural area or wherever, we're all Americans. It was good to see the whole tapestry." 

Would Matt do something like this again? He would, he said, but in a different way, perhaps with golf, if he's feeling up to it, or just on a leisurely trip across the country with his wife. 

For now, he's going to rest on what he accomplished. 

"People would ask me, 'What are you going to do once this trip is over?'" Matt said. "I told them, 'I'm going to take a vacation.' Because this was not really a vacation. There was not time to sightsee or anything. It was just a little tour. It was boom, boom, boom."



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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