RESPONSE TO PRO-LITE ARTICLE

RESPONSE TO PRO-LITE ARTICLE

logo-store

On Saturday, June 18, 2016, Pro-Lite Sports published on the Home Page of its website an attack on the integrity of the USAPA and its Board members.

At various times in its web article, it accuses either the USAPA or its Rules Chair Dennis Dacey of having questionable intentions; communicating infrequently with each other; having only one person oversee, interpret and enforce the rules; listening only to “their tight-knit circle of friends” and not players or manufacturers; ordering Pro-Lite to conduct a recall; being biased against Pro-Lite; having a conflict of interest because USAPA Board members themselves play with branded paddles; pulling “shenanigans”; “undermining” manufacturers; giving preferential treatment to some manufacturers; showing “animosity” toward Pro-Lite; having “ulterior motives”; and receiving “payoffs.” Each and every one of these charges is blatantly false.

The USAPA Board of Directors, like virtually every other board of both non-profits and for-profit companies, is composed of individuals who volunteer their expert services to grow and develop the sport. Some Board members devote well over 20 hours a week to this work and all spend hundreds of hours a year working without pay to make pickleball a great sport for all people to play.

By all accounts, the USAPA has been exceedingly successful in all of its efforts over the past decade, creating uniform rules and growing the sport from several hundred players located mostly in the northwest and southwest to a global sport with an estimated 2.5 million players in the U.S. alone.

None of the voting Board members has any business or monetary connections that might cause bias for or against a manufacturer. New board members are carefully vetted to make sure that they present no conflict of interest. Board members are therefore fair and even-handed in making their decisions and have only the best interests of the sport in mind. Because they are a “working Board” in the sense that they conduct pickleball business as well as make policy and rules decisions, Board members are constantly meeting with the playing public, attending and playing in tournaments, giving clinics, and listening and responding to feedback.

The Pro-Lite article singled out Dennis Dacey 14 times, even placing his name in bold print, attacking his motives, accusing him of being discourteous and unprofessional, holding animosity and bias against Pro-Lite, having a conflict of interest, being unqualified, preferring some manufacturers over others, and suggesting that he accepted payoffs. All of these charges against Dennis are untrue and have damaged his reputation of being honest, forthright, meticulous, accessible and fair. Pro-Lite also suggests that Dennis is not competent to do testing, without any evidence to support that allegation as well as all the others.

In fact, Dennis Dacey brings excellent credentials to his position as Rules Chair as someone qualified to perform material testing. He is a graduate of California Coast University, majored in engineering and business, is a certified gas engineer: ASGE, and worked in the major appliance industry as Vice President of Engineering at several corporations before going into business as an engineering consultant. He has over 40 years of experience as an engineer and product designer. His work on behalf of USAPA as Rules Chair averages 4 hours a day, 6 days a week. As a player, he has recently held a pickleball rating of both 4.5 and 5.0 and has won his division in multiple tournaments, including the Nationals, Huntsman Games and National Senior Games.

Dennis works closely with USAPA’s independent testing laboratory, Northwest Laboratories. As a courtesy to manufacturers, he performs preliminary deflection testing on qualifying paddles that are sent to the USAPA by manufacturers. If his testing results show that a paddle will probably fail the lab tests, he advises the manufacturer and offers to return the testing fee and submitted paddles. The USAPA does not return paddles that go through laboratory testing because of the need for archiving and future comparisons. Manufacturers are aware that their two submitted paddles will not be returned because the submission form that they fill out (accessible on the USAPA website) states in underlined print, “all paddles submitted for testing are retained by the USAPA for our documentation.”

Dennis also conducts roughness testing with the SR 100 Surface Roughness Tester by Starrett, which Pro-Lite wrongly terms “an outmoded device,” in an effort to discredit the accuracy of the tester’s measurements. Although there are more expensive and upgraded testers on the market, Starrett assures the USAPA that the SR 100 gives accurate readings. Pro-Lite implies that the tester needs continual recalibration, another false allegation. Nevertheless, Dennis recalibrates the SR 100 before each use. The accusation by Pro-Lite that the testing apparatus is faulty, is not calibrated, or is not operated by someone qualified to do so is completely unfounded. The USAPA tries not to use expensive testing equipment unless necessary so that manufacturers with limited resources can also purchase the testing equipment themselves to test their products before submitting them to the USAPA or trying to market them.

In pursuing its pervasive vendetta against Dennis, Pro-Lite paints him as a dictator and as “the man who had shaped our sport for many years.” Its article states, “All of these rules are overseen, interpreted and enforced by one man, Dennis Dacey.” This uninformed charge is false and nothing could be farther from the truth. Dennis is humble, analytical, quiet and collaborative. His non-assertive, soft-spoken nature can be easily perceived from listening to Pro-Lite’s secret taping of its call to Dennis that it posted on YouTube and its website. In fact, the rules are analyzed, discussed, passed, interpreted and enforced by the Board as a whole. While Dennis may conduct tests because of his technical expertise, any decision to reject a product because of failure to meet specifications or follow the rules is reviewed with other Board members. The USAPA is operated democratically, not by decree. Its members collaborate regularly, not only at Board meetings. Power is not concentrated in the few; it is shared by the many.

As for Pro-Lite’s charge that Dennis Dacey has a conflict of interest and its insinuation that he and other Board members are receiving “payoffs,” presumably by unknown persons who have offered the USAPA Board money to find that the Apex Power paddle (but not Pro-Lite’s other paddles) violates the rules, let us assure everyone that these allegations are ludicrous and alarmingly irresponsible coming from the owner and president of a major paddle manufacturing company. Equally alarming is Pro-Lite’s following statement on its website to Apex purchasers: “In the meantime, we encourage you to play in ANY [Emphasis by Pro-Lite] tournament with your Apex paddle.”  In making this statement, Pro-Lite is intentionally asking its customers entering sanctioned events to break pickleball rules and possibly incur severe penalties by playing with an unapproved paddle. The Board has procedures in place to avoid conflicts of interest. It also strives to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest. The irony in these accusations is that the USAPA Board is now being accused of unfair bias by the same company that for years had its founder and president on the USAPA Board as a voting member and who still attends Board meetings as a non-voting advisor.

Pro-Lite’s article relates an Apex paddle “story” that contains many inaccuracies and important omissions. On Sept. 20, 2015, Pro-Lite submitted a paddle for testing under the name Vapor. This is the same paddle that it now calls “the original Apex (we’ll call it Version 1).” It was not an Apex Power paddle when submitted. Pro-Lite later asked for, and was granted, permission to change the name, and only the name, from Vapor to Apex. In March 2016, the USAPA received complaints that the Apex Power paddle was generating excessive spin. Upon acquiring the Apex Power paddle and testing it for roughness, Dennis found that it produced significantly higher roughness readings than the Vapor/Apex (Version 1). All six of the directional roughness readings on the Vapor/Apex were between 14 and 20 Rz but the same six readings on the Apex Power were between 40 and 48 Rz.  Rule 2.E.2 states that allowable limit for roughness is 30 micrometers on The Rz scale (peak to valley). Therefore, this Apex Power paddle greatly exceeded permissible limits and conclusively demonstrated that the new version had been changed from the Vapor/Apex that had been previously approved. Those results are not “just over the limits for approval,” as stated in Pro-Lite’s article, they are significantly over the limits. Further, advertising on the Pro-Lite website about the Apex Power as having “a cutting edge graphic process” and a “specialized surface,” indicated that changes had been made to the paddle. When a manufacturer changes a paddle, it must submit that paddle for testing pursuant to Rule 2.E.8. The model currently called the Apex Power has been changed at least twice, yet it was not submitted to testing until May 14, 2016.

Contrary to Pro-Lite’s assertion that it was not informed of the above results by Dennis Dacey, in fact it was informed. Dennis told them about the excessive roughness test results before he sent a message to tournament directors that the Apex had failed that test.  Discussions then took place between Pro-Lite and Dennis Dacey concerning whether Pro-Lite could bring its paddle under the roughness limits, yet still maintain the same Apex Power name.

The idea of a recall as a possible solution came from Pro-Lite, which asked if it could retain the Apex Power brand name if it recalled all of its non-conforming paddles. The USAPA did not “order” Pro-Lite to issue a recall as it maintains. At least one of the discussions was secretly recorded by Pro-Lite. Dennis was not informed then or anytime later that the call made by Pro-Lite was being taped or that it would later be placed on YouTube and linked to Pro-Lite’s website. That conversation, which supposedly took place on April 4, shows that Dennis agreed that any consideration of retaining the Apex Power name depended on a full recall of the existing Apex Power paddles.

The USAPA’s subsequent efforts to discover facts about whether a recall had occurred were rebuffed. As recently as May 17, after repeated attempts to obtain information concerning the agreed to recall, Dennis wrote Pro-Lite, “Please let me know how many original Apex paddles are still outstanding with players, retailers and distributors. Please also send me a copy of your recall notice and how it was publicized (so that it would reach Apex owners).” Pro-Lite never responded.

It was unspoken but obvious that it was also necessary for Pro-Lite to send the production version of the finished Apex Power paddles to the USAPA for testing with the proper submission form and $200 testing fee—a procedure that is required of all manufacturers.

Although Pro-Lite told Dennis that it was recalling the Apex, and in reliance on that assurance USAPA sent out a notice to that effect, Pro-Lite then denied that it was recalling the Apex paddle. It sent the following message to tournament directors on April 12:

Dear Tournament Director,

Neil Friedenberg here.  I am the owner of Pro-Lite Sports.  This morning an email was sent out by Linda Gartlan to some or all USAPA Sanctioned Tournament Directors.  This email contains inaccurate information that we are recalling the Apex paddle. 

Even though, in issuing the notice, the USAPA relied on Pro-Lite’s assurance that it would recall the Apex paddle, Dennis did not tell Pro-Lite that it could continue using the Apex Power name for two or more different paddles on the market. Having two, three or more different paddles with the same name violates Rule 2.E.8. That rule states in part, “Paddles with different core material, surface material, or other significant differences must have a unique name or number.” The rationale behind the rule prohibiting two different paddles with the same name is simple, especially when one of the different paddles violates the rules. Opposing players would not be able to tell which paddle that they were competing against, and tournament directors would not be readily able to tell whether the paddle qualified under the rules for sanctioned play.  Manufacturers may not produce and have on the primary or secondary markets different paddles identified by the identical brand and model name.

Pro-Lite has produced no evidence that it ever issued a recall of its Apex Power paddle as originally promised, then denied, then promised again. The USAPA Board never saw a recall published by Pro-Lite and has not been told by any player that he or she received a recall notice. There is some evidence that Pro-Lite may have sent a recall notice to some of its distributors; however, at least one Pro-Lite distributor was recently observed using the non-complying Apex paddles as demos. A recall means taking back all paddles, not just ones that may be in sellers’ hands.

Pro-Lite contends that even though the names of the differing Apex paddles are the same, its newest Apex Power paddle should be declared “legal” because it contains a colored box (a color not very distinguishable from the remainder of the paddle). The box is roughly a half inch by one-and-a-half inches and says, “Made in the USA.”  This colored box sits directly above the handle and can be covered by common name and address stickers that many players apply to their paddles as identification.

Shortly after Dennis insisted that Pro-Lite could not have two or more different paddles with the same name on the market or be used in sanctioned tournaments, Pro-Lite hired a lawyer, who sent the USAPA a letter that started out, “Please be advised that our firm has been retained by Pro-Lite Sports to investigate and pursue legal recourse against your organization, …” The USAPA cooperated fully with Pro-Lite’s lawyer in trying to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution. Pro-Lite never wavered from its insistence that it should be allowed to have different Apex Power paddles in play at the same time—one of which greatly exceeds the roughness specifications. After almost a month of being represented by their lawyer, Pro-Lite wrote to USAPA that the lawyer was no longer representing them in the Apex matter, but provided no explanation why.

During this extended process in March and April, Pro-Lite never submitted an application, a $200 fee, or two paddles for the USAPA to test. Instead, Pro-Lite sent in six unfinished prototypes (along with one of its competitors’ paddles that it maintained violated the rules). These six samples were all different in texture, they were incomplete, and they could not have been used to play any game of pickleball. Pro-Lite has admitted they were prototypes, yet they (or one of them since no two were the same) were the very same paddles that they claim were accepted by the USAPA and on which they claim in their article “was approved through the process (we have the proofs) and the changing of a paddle name cannot be dictated by Dennis Dacey.” No such Apex paddle was properly submitted, tested, paid a fee for, submitted for lab testing, or approved by the USAPA. Pro-Lite was attempting to bypass the testing process, which includes deflection, roughness and field testing, that all manufacturers must follow.

In mid-May, Pro-Lite filled out a submission form (the wrong one) and sent the USAPA two Apex Power paddles for testing along with the $200 fee. This was the first time that the USAPA had received a production Apex Power paddle for testing from Pro-Lite. Even though Pro-Lite and its lawyer had been informed many times that by rule the USAPA could not accept different paddles with the same name, the new submission contained the same brand and model names as the paddles that exceeded the roughness test measurements earlier in 2016. The USAPA notified Pro-Lite that it would not test the paddles because test results would be irrelevant—the paddles did not meet threshold requirement of compliance with Rule 2.E.8 because they had the same name as other paddles being used and therefore were not a unique paddle.

The USAPA had no intention of making the dispute with Pro-Lite public. It has been forced to respond because many members who read Pro-Lite’s erroneous assertions urged the USAPA to set the record straight. We hope we have set the record straight with this detailed explanation and apologize for its length. It is not fair to the pickleball public or to the USAPA and its membership to let unfounded, inaccurate, mean-spirited statements undermine the hard work, credibility, ethical behavior, and honorable intentions of the USAPA in leading the sport of pickleball forward. Pro-Lite, as much as any manufacturer, has benefited financially because of the results of USAPA’s devoted efforts to the sport.

Finally, we should address Pro-Lite’s false claim that “there is no compromise with the USAPA and specifically, Dennis Dacey.” In fact, the USAPA did everything within its power to find a compromise position that would not break the rules, but Pro-Lite did not budge from its insistence that it must be allowed to have two (or possibly more) Apex Power paddles in the market, one of which greatly exceeds the roughness specifications. In the spirit of conciliation, the USAPA went so far as to suggest a compromise in allowing Pro-Lite to add a number “2” or Roman numeral “II” to the Apex Power designation on the paddle so that it would read “Apex Power 2.” That compromise offer by USAPA was rejected.

The USAPA Board has always worked hard to apply the rules fairly and without bias. Any other manufacturer would have received the same decisions under the same circumstances. We always have the best interests of this wonderful sport in mind as we work to promote it, and we refuse to give preferential treatment to certain constituencies, even to those who threaten to sue us, to obtain that preferential treatment. We appreciate the trust that our members and the playing public have placed in the USAPA to accomplish its mission to grow the sport and to keep the sport true to its origins.

 

* * *

USAPA Sponsors