This South Jersey couple said “we do!” at a pickleball wedding in Ventnor

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It wasn’t love at first dink, but it was pretty close.

Kristen Mueller, of Cherry Hill, and Troy Clemmer, of Marlton, sensed something special from the start. They met at a pickleball outing with friends, before either had mastered the game’s signature skill shot. She noticed his style of play — scrappy, aggressive. Kind of like her own. Quietly, he noticed the same.

A couple weeks later, they ran into each other at a pickleball tournament in North Jersey. In between matches, they talked and soon realized they liked more than just each other’s style of play.

Things took off from there: Kristen and Troy fell in love — with each other and pickleball, a tennis-like game credited with being America’s fastest growing sport. There’s even Major League Pickleball now. Basketball great LeBron James just became its latest big name investor.

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Our couple was right with the p-ball wave. By the time they were together three years, they were playing — and winning — professional-level tournaments, often competing as a pair. They formed a business together, Tristen Pickleball, after friends’ nickname for the couple. Kristen shelved her dietician career to become its instructor, and Troy, a software engineer, does the IT.

As partners in love, pickleball and business, becoming partners for life was the next happy step. And for this couple, only one kind of wedding would do:

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A pickleball wedding. Actually, make that a pickleball extravaganza.

“When we decided to get married, we thought it would be cool to have a day that was an experience that reflected us as a couple,” said Kristen, 34. “You’d leave after that day and have a better understanding of us as a couple because we were in our element for an entire day, doing what we like.”

Troy, 32, created, an interactive website with the rundown of the wedding events, the couple’s love story, information about pickleball, and photos of wedding guests with their pickleball skill.

A special pickleball-inspired cake — of course — was created, as well as pickleball centerpieces and pickleball-themed favors. For the cocktail hour and beyond, there would be special drinks dedicated to the bride and groom’s signature best shots. For Kristen, it was the Two-Handed Backhand Counter Attack, a concoction of tequila, mint and grapefruit. Troy’s drink, the Two-Handed Forehand Attack, was whiskey and lemonade.

For this event with so many — literally — moving parts, the couple called in the professionals. In this case, that was Funky Pickle, a local pickleball event firm that put together tournaments the couple had attended.

Maggie Corrado, one of the founders, said Troy got in touch with them about organizing a pickleball nuptial.

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“‘We want to have a wedding that is nontraditional,'” Corrado said he told her.

Not that everything had to be pickleball. The couple decided they would say their vows in a brief ceremony Oct. 8 on the Ventnor beach, with Kristen in a white wedding dress and Troy and their families in formal attire. Officiating was their friend Stephen Henricks, a minister with Providence Church of West Chester and a serious pickleballer.

But after the I do’s, it was time to get down to business:

Instead of a first dance, the new couple did a First Dink on Ventnor’s beachside pickleball court, where the all-day reception took place. The band was prepped to play “Dink with Me Tonight,” a pickleball version of Olly Murs’ “Dance with Me Tonight.” There was also a father-daughter dink for Kristen and her dad, Jeff Mueller, who learned to play after getting a pickleball set one Father’s Day, and a mother-son dance for Troy and his mom, Rene Clemmer, an advanced player who got her son into the sport.

The formal wear was long gone. Troy had a tuxedo print T-shirt, and Kristen changed into a white tennis dress. The wedding guests had been asked to wear casual, pickleball-friendly clothing in blue and purple, the couple’s favorite colors.

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For the afternoon, the plan was lots of pickleball play, including a beginner’s clinic for those who hadn’t played before or just wanted a refresher. There was the cutting of the cake and a 30-minute dance party for those so inclined.

And then the piece de resistance: The Family Challenge. Team Mueller vs. Team Clemmer.

Apparently there was some familial consternation about the wisdom of that. But the couple said one of the nice things about pickleball is it’s not hard to pick up the basics quickly.

“I think it’s a way for us to celebrate our competitive side a little bit,” said Troy. “We’re both very competitive people and we’re athletes, so I think our families can handle it.”

In the end, they didn’t have to. The families played two matches, and it ended in a draw. The Clemmers won one, and the Muellers aced the other.

But the wedding was really just about having fun.

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“They’ve thought about it in such a cool way that it’s going to be an experience,” said Henricks, 40, the friend who conducted their wedding ceremony.

“The whole wedding is everything they love,” said Meredith Allen, 34, a dietician and one of Kristen’s friends from the University of Delaware. “You can’t help but walk away knowing a bit more about all their favorite things.”

They haven’t planned a honeymoon yet, although Kristen was confident there would be one.

“I’m sure it will be all about doing something active,” she said. “Probably pickleball.”