There was a pickleball tournament at Mission Hills Country Club on Saturday, and that alone isn’t newsworthy, but the origin of this particular event makes it special.
A few years ago, Dilen Kakar, now a 16-year-old Palm Desert High School student, was compelled to do something charitable to help raise money for cancer research. The motivation was his grandmother Virinder Gill, who has twice beaten cancer.
“Fourteen years ago, my grandmother was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer, and I was 2 years old so obviously I didn’t understand the magnitude of the issue, but I came to know it was very tough for my family,” Kakar said. “But because of the medical resources and research and obviously her own strength, she was able to persevere and beat the illness. Then two years later she was re-diagnosed, and they say the second time is more severe, but once again because of the medical advancements and research that had been done, she was able to beat the illness again. It’s inspiring. She’s a pillar of strength.”
Kakar believes in the cause and understands that not everyone can get access to the kind of care his grandmother was fortunate to have, and that’s what drove him to do something. But what?
Kakar is a member of the Palm Desert varsity tennis team and as a racket-sport aficionado, the idea of a pickleball tournament popped into his head. What’s more popular than pickleball? And that was the origin of the Pink Pickleball Charity Tournament.
So he and his friend Fritz Hergenhan worked the phones. They sent out e-mails to see if anyone would be interested in helping sponsor a pickleball tournament. Sure enough, his persistence paid off. The event got off the ground last November with about 60 players and raised $6,500 for Desert Cancer Foundation. By the time this year’s version rolled around, more sponsors, more competitors and more money were involved.
On Saturday at Mission Hills Country Club, there were 78 competitors, and when you add in spectators more than 100 people were on hand. And this year’s charitable haul was almost three times as much as 2022. Kakar said the event brought in $18,402, all of which goes to the Desert Cancer Foundation, particularly to support individuals who can’t afford their cancer treatment. The money comes from entry fees, T-shirt and bucket hat sales, as well as a silent auction.
“We chose Desert Cancer Foundation because we know that many people don’t have access to the resources that my grandmother had,” Kakar said. “We wanted to help out our community in that way. We like to say we don’t host this event just for the pickleball community we host it for my family, the desert community family, and those individuals who aren’t able to support themselves on their cancer journeys.”
The list of sponsors, both local and national, is impressive. One of the sponsors Kakar reached out to was the pickleball company Crown Pickleball, and they were so enamored with Kakar’s idea that they made and donated 120 pink pickleballs which were used in the event.
Other sponsors were Good Neighbor Pharmacy, Jacoje Jewelry, Pete Carlson’s Golf and Tennis, Grill-A-Burger Palm Desert, The Hideout, Sumodog, Avalon Pharmacy, Mission Hills Country Club, Impressions Designs, Morgan Stanley, Palm Springs Tennis Courts, Center For Orthodontics and Vintage Landscape. Each either contributed money or helped out in the production of the event in some way.
For the record, the champions of the top division of the tournament were the team of Jake Presser and Madison Wold, who beat Simon Frary and Alex Kuperstein in the title match. Competitors ranged in age from 12 to 75.
“I just really want to thank everyone involved,” Kakar said. “And we’re already looking ahead to next year. Next year’s goals? A hundred competitors, maybe 200 in attendance and $25,000 raised.”
Shad Powers is a columnist for The Desert Sun. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.