A celebrity pickleball tournament featuring Jimmie Johnson, Lance Armstrong and Alex Ferreira on Tuesday benefited the Aspen Education Fund. The tournament, held on the courts by the Aspen Recreation Center, was one of the items auctioned off at AEF’s annual Flamingo fundraiser in December.
The pickleball tournament alone raised $25,000 for the Aspen school district, according to AEF executive director Cynthia Chase. Overall, the Flamingo fundraiser raised nearly $1.5 million. The live auction portion raised $290,000.
The funds will allow the district to hire another college mental health counselor and an additional college counselor, according to Chase. The AEF will also use the proceeds to expand the International Baccalaureate program. The entire school district will transition to an IB program beginning in kindergarten. Currently, only middle and high school classes are IB. The remaining funds will go to the district’s outdoor education program, Aspen Family Connections, robotics and additional school support, according to Chase.
“People who bought it believe in our public schools,” Chase said. “We have a great community that continues to show up and help fund these different programs. It’s one of the fun ways they can do it.
The three buyers of the auction item – Katie Waldeck, Diana Duffey and Tami Solondz – are parents from the Aspen school district. The auction winners created the parentheses, placing the celebrities on different teams. They competed alongside a dozen friends and family chosen by the winners.
Tournament celebrities have strong ties to Aspen. Halfpipe skier and Olympic silver medalist Ferreira graduated from Aspen High School in 2013, and Armstrong has children who are currently enrolled in Aspen public schools. Johnson, the former NASCAR driver, is not a full-time resident of Aspen, but he spends a lot of time in town and has a foundation that supports public schools.
“What I love about it is I love seeing how someone like Jimmie (Johnson) who doesn’t live here full time sees the importance – they care about our local public schools,” Chase said. “They’re not here all year, but they still see the importance of our public schools and that’s an inspiration to me. Lance (Armstrong) and Alex (Ferreira) always support our schools.
In recent years, pickleball has grown in popularity. In 2016, the City of Aspen converted one of the tennis courts adjacent to Iselin Field into four pickleball courts. Since then, the city has planned to renovate and improve the courts in order to increase the availability of playing spaces for the fashionable sport.
During an auction brainstorm three years ago, Flamingo event organizers recognized the growing popularity of pickleball and launched the Celebrity Pickleball Tournament. The event has happened every year since then, although Chris Evert has played in place of Johnson for the past two years.
“We were trying to bring some creative items to live auctions and pickleball had become so popular and so we thought, ‘You know what, let’s get some local Aspen people together to play in a tournament,’ and that’s it. that happened. “, said Chase.
Anna Meyer is an editorial intern at The Aspen Times for part of the summer. She will be a sophomore at Vassar College this fall.