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Dawson County men headed to the 2020 Georgia Pickleball State Championship
Pickleball 1
Local residents Mark O’Keefe and Jay Jalutkewicz practice ahead of the 2020 Georgia Pickleball State Championships, which will be held on Sept. 11 through Sept. 13. - photo by Jacob Smith

This year has been a crazy year for sports, and that hasn’t stopped at lesser-known sports like Pickleball, which has grown in popularity immensely over the last few years. 

This year, the 2020 Georgia Pickleball State Championship will not hold qualifying tournaments, but will instead hold open signups for teams to compete in the championship. During the tournament held in Griffin, Ga. from Sept. 11 through 13, Dawson County will be represented by two local residents, Mark O’Keefe and Jay Jalutkewicz, who will compete in the tournament’s 40-49 year age division.

In an interview with the Dawson County News, O’Keefe dubbed himself a ‘pickleball addict,’ explaining that a hip replacement led him to pickleball after he was sidelined from contact sports. With a competitive streak ready for an outlet, pickleball was perfect for him. 

Like O’Keefe, Jalutkewicz said that injuries keep him from being able to play softball anymore, making pickleball one of the few sports he can play. 

“We’re buddies,” O’Keefe said. “Our kids have known each other and played ball with each other so we’ve known each other.” 

O’Keefe was the head coach of the local parks and rec. baseball team and Jalutkewicz was the base coach. The coaches, now teammates, said that it is the exact same way playing pickleball. 

“Same thing when we’re on the court,” Jalutkewicz said. “ [Mark] is the coach and then I’m something like a spiritual advisor.”

O’Keefe agreed. He said that when pickleball gets streaky, it’s easy to throw in the towel and get ready for the next game, but that Jalutkewicz is always there to keep the team moving forward. 

Together the teammates have only competed in one other tournament in White County, but ended up winning it. Both men said that they were looking to leave this tournament the state champions, but that winning was not everything. 

“I can’t even promise we’re not going to get injured,” Jalutkewicz said.

O’Keefe currently coaches on the 11u travel ball team in Dawson County and said that he tells his team all the time how much of a reward it is to represent Dawsonville. Now, he has an opportunity to do that with Jalutkewicz. 

“I’m a real community guy so I don’t take that lightly at all,” O’Keefe.