Aaron Gifford, a U.S. Army veteran who was dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder from serving in the first invasion of Iraq, found solace in playing pickleball with his twin sister, Kiley. In January 2018, he lost his battle with his mental health and took his own life. As a way of tribute and fundraising, his family held the first Aaron Gifford pickleball tournament just months after Aaron’s death.
Since then, each year in April, his family hosts the annual Aaron Gifford Pickleball Benefit. The 3rd Annual Aaron Gifford Tournament was held this year after COVID-19 postponed and canceled the event in the last couple of years. Take a look at a recap of this beautiful event and what to expect for next year.
2022 Aaron Gifford Benefit Pickleball Tournament Details
Dates and Broadcasting
The tournament took place on April 2nd and 3rd, 2022, and though it was not broadcasted nationally, a few members of the pickleball community uploaded highlights to YouTube.
Prize Money & Set Up
Since this tournament is a fundraiser, no prize money is given out. However, player registration did come with a free t-shirt to commemorate the event. All money raised, including registration fees, went to the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope and Mission 22.
Mesilla Valley Community of Hope is a Las Cruces local non-profit helping veterans seek assistance and fight veteran suicide. Mission 22 is a national organization dedicated to providing veterans with long-term wellness through various resources.
The Aaron Gifford tournament was sanctioned by the USA Pickleball Association and run by the tournament director, Cece Hunter. It was open to players ten and older with a 2.5 to 5.0 skill level. The tournament was played with both a Round Robin and a double-elimination format and only had doubles competition events. Divisions were separated into various skill levels and age groups.
The 2022 tournament, and all of the Aaron Gifford tournaments, are held at the New Mexico State University (NMSU) Tennis Complex located at 1815 Wells St., Las Cruces, NM 88001. This Las Cruces venue has 12 state-of-the-art courts and a 3,000-square-foot clubhouse.
Aaron Gifford Pickleball Benefit Turnout
Every year, the benefit grows, increasing the amount they are able to raise. This year, though the exact number hasn’t been released, there were enough entrants to estimate that at least $10,000 was raised to support the two non-profit organizations.
In fact, over 230 pickleball players participated, hailing from not just all over New Mexico but from Texas, California, Arizona, and more. Several Pickleball Clubs were represented as well, and local businesses showed up to give their support and offer free services, like a physical therapist who was giving out free massages!
Highlights of the 3rd Annual Aaron Gifford Pickleball Benefit
In Men’s Doubles, several teams dominated their age groups and skill levels, including Brian Flowers & Little Monster Biffle, Marc Aguirre & Raul Hernandez, Mark McDowell & Les Bell, and Dean Goupil & Ron Wall.
Little Monster Biffle also showed in a Mixed Doubles event, winning gold with partner Aves Durham. In the same event, Little Monster Biffle’s Men’s Doubles partner, Brian Flowers, took home Bronze with his partner Rachel Hughes. Other notable Mixed Doubles teams included Kelly Jenkins & Aaron Wiederstein, Abigail & Carlos Guardado, Lawanna & Patrick Quist, and Michiko Henmi & Wally Hill.
Aves Durhan and Rachel Hughes, who medaled in Mixed Doubles events, also partnered to win a Women’s Doubles Event, and so did Lawanna Quist, who partnered with Sally Bower. Jill Sherman, Lina Rowse, Beverly Boozer, Carol Sherick, Cindy Carril, and Dorothy Robinson, among others, also had a winning day.
Preparing for Next Year
The USA Pickleball Association will likely sanction next year’s event. Details start rolling out towards the end of the year to begin registration at the beginning of January. We expect it will be held at the same venue in Las Cruces in 2023, just as it has been every year. If you missed this benefit this year, you’d want to keep an eye out because we have a feeling next year will be the best one yet!