While growing up in Vineland, Frank Anthony Davis’ sports of choice were football and skateboarding. When he was in his early 20s, his best friend Bobby Kobylinski, a physical education teacher at Hopewell Crest Elementary School in South Jersey, introduced him to pickleball.
“I had never played tennis or any racquet or paddle sport,” Davis said, “but I was immediately hooked.”
In 2013, Davis entered his first tournament and decided to compete in the pro division to challenge himself. He finished fourth in his grouping. Today, the 34-year-old singles player is ranked No. 11 in the world. Last month, he won a bronze medal—and $1,000—by finishing third in men’s pro singles at the U.S. Open in Naples, Florida.
Davis, currently a resident of Bridgeton, focuses on singles because he still maintains his full-time job as an electrical engineer with Magtec Products of Alberta, Canada. He said his schedule doesn’t give him enough time to commit to practicing with a partner.
“I’m lucky I have two passions—pickleball and engineering,” he said. “I’d probably be a better pickleball player if I focused on it full-time, but, you know, we only get one life and I have two passions. I don’t want to choose.”
The money earned by professional pickleball players varies greatly. Prize money continues to grow as the sport gains in popularity. Top players can bring in six-figure incomes annually from tournament wins and appearances. The income factors in sponsorship deals with equipment manufacturers and consumer product companies, fees from private lessons, and serving as teaching pros at pickleball camps.
Davis, who has a sponsorship deal with paddle manufacturer Gearbox, had his best year so far in 2019 when he won his first pro tournament, the Chicago Open, and received bronze at Nationals, in addition to a few other titles.
Davis considered retiring from the sport after dealing with some injuries the past few years, including a 2022 disc tear in his lower back. Now healthy, he expects to play a full season in 2023.
The biggest change he has experienced during his decade in the sport is the growth of younger people playing the game.
“At every single tournament I signed up for between 2012 and 2018, I was either the youngest player or the second youngest,” he said. “Now, I’m one of the oldest guys playing [pro] singles. I really think it was the pandemic. People wanted to do something outside and they’d throw up a net in their driveway and play. Now they’re building courts everywhere.”
This content first appeared on bizjournals.com