Pickleball’s undisputed number-one super-fan, Kathy Demetri, is used to being called “Crazy Kathy.”
But she’s not crazy – just way more devoted to having a good time than most people. And her infectious passion for pickleball fun is contagious both for those on or off the court.
If you’ve attended a high-level pickleball tournament, chances are you’ve both seen and heard Demetri. She’s the 60-year-old woman roaming the grandstand while squeaking a rubber chicken in one hand and holding a wooden stick in the other hand that’s attached to a laminated photo of a player on the court.
And she’s shouting, “Let’s go!” or “C’mon!” or “Woo!” or a combination of those exhortations. And it’s filled with the kind of exuberance that comes after bolting a mini-bottle of her signature beverage, Fireball cinnamon flavored whisky.
“I’m trying to work out a sponsorship deal with Fireball,” she said.
It’s hard to imagine that underneath this presentation of pickleball delirium is a nuclear engineer with a pretty good idea of what she is doing and why she is doing it.
“I cheer for everyone,” Demetri said. “But I enjoy those people who do better when people are cheering for them.”
And there’s nothing like getting cheered by “Crazy Kathy.” She’s all in, ready to turn herself inside out to wake up an all-too-quiet crowd on your behalf.
“I tend to cheer for the underdogs,” she said.
Her singular, energetic courtside routines started with pickleball pro, Tyson McGuffin.
Demetri’s brother had once been spoofed by his co-workers who made up laminated heads that looked like him, then held them in front of their faces, using wooden sticks. She had some of those laminated heads of her brother at her home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
About six years ago, Demetri pulled McGuffin aside before a US Open in Naples and asked him if it would be OK if she and her friends made laminated McGuffin heads and used them to cheer him on at the upcoming Naples, Florida, tournament.
He loved the idea. They did, and an obsession was born.
Demetri figures she probably has as many as 100 laminated faces of pro pickleballers on sticks now.
“If I really like you, you get more than one head,” she said.
She even updates heads, like in the case of Gabriel Tardio, picturing him with and without eyeglasses.
Demetri likes the players who come alive when she starts waving their heads on sticks and yelling encouragement at them.
“There are some players who really thrive on cheering,” Demetri said. “And there are others who actually go the opposite way when you cheer for them.”
Over the years, “Crazy Kathy” has learned how to pick her spots. And she has become such a mainstay at tournaments that pros give her tickets to make sure she’s there to cheer for them.
Others lobby for a laminated head for themselves, only to find out that Crazy Kathy has some standards.
“I say, ‘When you get a gold medal in front of me, then you’ll get your head on a stick.’”
As for the rubber chickens? Well, she just likes squeezing them.
Demetri had been a tournament tennis player who gave up tennis for pickleball and now plays at a 4.0 to 4.5 level. She plays and cheers at as many as 20 pickleball tournaments a year, doing her best to counter what she calls “tennis behavior.”
“I don’t mind being called ‘Crazy Kathy,’” she said. “It’s just fun for me to see people’s reactions and to encourage people to play better.”