Siblings Riley, left, and Lindsey Newman compete in the bronze medal match at the U.S. Open in Florida in April. (Submitted photo)
By Jim Waller – Wednesday, August 7, 2019
Basketball and tennis helped pay the way through college for siblings Lindsey and Riley Newman. Now the South Whidbey natives are using their experiences in those sports to finance life.
After excelling in multiple sports at South Whidbey High School (Lindsey graduated in 2009 and Riley in 2011), the Newmans went on to play basketball and tennis at Skagit Valley College and then Division I tennis at Seattle University, winning numerous honors along the way.
After their basketball playing days ended, they turned to officiating. They quickly rose up the ranks and officiate “high-level men’s and women’s college basketball up and down the West Coast,” Lindsey said.
“Riley and I would love to make a living out of officiating basketball,” she added. “The ultimate goal is to ref in the NCAA tournaments and then officiate in the NBA and WNBA together.”
Earning those opportunities is difficult.
“The officiating world is very competitive and cut throat,” she said. “Everyone is gunning for the same spot and those spots are hard to come by.”
Give ‘old people’ sport a try
In 2017, the person who hands out Lindsey’s college basketball officiating assignments heard that she and Riley played college tennis and suggested the pair give pickleball a try.
“Riley and I were very hesitant to play because we loved tennis and thought pickleball was for ‘old people,’” Lindsey said. “However, after playing for the first time for like six hours, we were totally hooked.”
About a week after picking up a pickleball paddle for the first time, the Newmans entered their first tournament and finished first in the 5.0 mixed doubles division.
“We won prize money and realized very quickly that we could potentially be decent at pickleball,” Lindsey said.
Now the Newmans travel across the country competing in several tournaments a month.
“We have also started teaching pickleball, so we are hardly home at all,” Riley said. “We joke that we spend more time at airports and in hotels than we do at our own houses.”
They both live in Arizona — Lindsey in Queen Creek and Riley in Phoenix. Because of the constant travel from officiating and pickleball, neither has a full-time job. In addition to teaching pickleball, Lindsey supplements her income doing some bartending and serving, while Riley drives for Uber and Lyft.
Continue to add to early success
Their success in their first tournament wasn’t beginners luck. They have since added numerous awards, including some in major competitions.
They won a bronze at one of the world’s largest tournaments, the U.S. Open in Naples, Fla., in April. Riley added a “triple crown” at the Canadian Nationals in June, finishing first in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. Lindsey won gold in singles and mixed doubles at the Chicago Open in July.
Their achievements helped land a contract with Selkirk Sports and an endorsement deal with Tyrol Pickleball.
Playing tennis in college “pushed us to new heights,” Riley said. “Because of that, we feel it gives us a head up on the pickleball court.”
Tennis and pickleball share many similarities, but the Newmans had to make several adjustments to be successful in pickleball.
“The biggest thing that we had to change from playing tennis was that we had to learn how to have a really good soft game at the kitchen (first seven feet in front of the net),” Riley said.
He added they needed to improve their reflexes at the kitchen line because “the best pickleball players in the world hit extremely hard at a very close distance.”
Riley added that he and Lindsey like to thump the ball from the baseline, just like their tennis days.
“I think the main thing we took from tennis to pickleball was the ability to absolutely grind out our opponents,” Riley said. “We are typically referred to as ‘backboards’ because we anticipate and play defense better than most.”
Hope to be world’s best
The goal is to be the “the best in the world,” Riley said. “We want to win gold at every tournament we enter and be unstoppable. We know that’s not necessarily possible, so our goal at every tournament is to at least be on the podium (place among the top three). We’d love to teach more and start traveling more consistently outside the U.S.”
Their adventures in pickleball enticed three other Newman siblings to give it a try. Hayley, Carlie and Kody have started competing in tournaments, but touring will have to take a backseat for the latter two who are focused on finishing college.
“Our professional pickleball journey couldn’t be possible without the support of our amazing parents (Mike and Pam) and our incredible sponsor, Selkirk Sport and Tyrol Pickleball,” Lindsey said.
They would like to see the sport be more accessible on Whidbey Island.
“We hope that next time we visit South Whidbey, there will be some nice, permanent outdoor courts for people to use,” Lindsey said. “The soccer complex in Clinton has a great space, and with some community push, we think it could happen.”