Naperville Central High School's award-winning newspaper.

Central Times

Naperville Central High School's award-winning newspaper.

Central Times

Naperville Central High School's award-winning newspaper.

Central Times

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Central math teacher Free-quently dominates local pickleball courts

Photo courtesty of Leslie Free
Leslie Free (left) won gold at the National pickleball Chicago Open (AAP) in women’s doubles 4.0-4.5, a highly competitive bracket.

Beyond the classroom, Leslie Free, a math teacher at Central, dominates local pickleball courts,  participating in tournaments and training.

Free started playing pickleball about two and a half years ago when she was introduced to the sport by her neighbor, and has been addicted to it ever since.

“It was the tail end of the COVID era and all that,” Free said. “I just wanted to get outside and do something different.”

Free heads to the courts either to engage in competition or to join others for open play.

“If it’s a tournament, I gotta admit I have some butterflies depending on the level of competition,” Free said, “but if I’m going to open play, I’m ready to laugh because it’s one of those sports where you can be competitive but you can also laugh at yourself and laugh at each other.”

Since her college tennis days, Free hadn’t experienced the thrill of competition until she rediscovered it through playing pickleball.

“Being able to compete in tournaments has really brought back my competitive spirit,” Free said, “It gives me a lot of pride knowing that I can get back out there and be competitive with some of the better pickleball players.”

Free enjoys introducing her students and fellow teachers into the sport by encouraging them to join Central’s pickleball club.

“I talk about pickleball all the time, I tell kids at the school to come find me out at a park. Let’s play!” Free said.

Free integrates pickleball into her teaching by emphasizing the importance of preparation.

“I’ve really wanted to get better at pickleball so I get out there and play, I drill and I watch people who are better than me and I ask questions. So it’s kind of like I’m a student in that situation. I try to think about that when my kids are in front of me in my classroom, the students are playing a game of math,” Free said.

Rob Porter, a retired math teacher and current sub at Central, joined Free in open play two weeks ago, which was the first time Porter has seen her play.

“It was awesome, she’s really good, “ Porter said, “she was very helpful because I’m still learning the game, so she taught me all the different rules and strategies.”

Pickleball serves not only as a means for Free to stay active but also as an avenue for making friends.

“I just show up [to open play], and people that know me are happy to see me and that does a lot for your mental health to know that there’s people out there that enjoy playing pickleball with you,” Free said.

Free continues playing and competing in her free time.

“If you’re not laughing while playing pickleball, you’re doing it wrong,” Free said.

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About the Contributor
Kate Johnson
Kate Johnson, Staff Writer
Kate Johnson is a junior at Naperville Central. This is her first year on Central Times staff and she plans on majoring in Journalism and Communications. She enjoys writing opinion pieces. Outside of school she reads and plays video games. She is in the Theatre club and plans on playing Badminton for Central.
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