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South Valley Journal

Pickleball tournament, palooza, held in Bluffdale to combat child sex trafficking

Jun 18, 2019 04:10PM ● By Jennifer Gardiner

Players compete during O.U.R pickleball tournament (Photo Courtesy: Sierra Williams, Operation Underground Railroad)

By Jennifer Gardiner | [email protected]

In May, local Utah pickleball players gathered in Bluffdale to play in a tournament on behalf of Operation Underground Railroad, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting child sex-trafficking. 

The two-day event was held at Wardle Fields where men and women competed in both singles and doubles matches. Each player paid $20 to participate in the competition. 

The second day of the competition, May 18, Operation Underground threw a Pickleball Palooza Party with free admission for the community. Attendees got a chance to enjoy music, food trucks and sponsor booths. They also got to meet members of the Underground team. 

The event was held despite the inclement weather in what was described  as “a bit of a weather miracle.” It was pouring rain at 6 a.m. when crews arrived to set up, but it stopped by 8 a.m., just in time to play. A couple hours later, another burst of rain sneaked in for just about 30 minutes just as the next group was scheduled. The rest of the day held up beautifully, and the tournament went off without any additional issues. 

For those who do not know what pickleball is, Wikipedia describes it as a paddle sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis. Two or four players use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a perforated polymer ball, similar to a Wiffle Ball, over a net. It is created for all ages and skill levels.

In all, the tournament and palooza raised $10,000, thanks to the players, sponsors and donors. Due to the success, O.U.R plans on holding this event every year. All of the proceeds went directly to O.U.R.

During the event, Jerry Gowan, chief operations officer of O.U.R., shared stories of how the nonprofit began and how the team saves children from sex-trafficking.

Since 2013, Operation Underground Railroad officials said they have gathered the world's experts in extraction operations and in anti-child trafficking efforts to bring an end to child slavery. 

The O.U.R.'s Underground Jump Team consists of former CIA, Navy SEALs and Special Ops operatives that lead coordinated identification and extraction efforts. The operations are done in conjunction with law enforcement throughout the world.

Once victims of trafficking are rescued, the process in obtaining justice for them and prosecuting the perpetrators starts. Often, survivors require recovery and rehabilitation for the trauma they have endured.

According to O.U.R., the organization has helped rescue 2,182 children. This  has led to the arrest of 1,238 sex traffickers. The number of children cared for in its after-care program has reached more than 3,000. Successful operations have been in 21 countries and 22 states.

O.U.R. is committed to the journey of supporting survivors as they go through their healing process. There are after-care centers around the world, which consists of partnering with different organizations, safe homes and other after-care centers. 

Operation Underground Railroad’s founder Timothy Ballard spent more than 10 years working as a Special Agent for the Department of Homeland Security where he was assigned to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. He deployed as an undercover operative for the U.S. Child Sex Tourism Jump Team and has worked every type of case imaginable in the fight to dismantle child trafficking rings. He has successfully dismantled dozens of sex trafficking organizations and rescued countless children from sex slavery. 

The O.U.R. website states the original Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid 19th century. They were used by African American slaves to escape into free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. 

To learn more about Operation Underground Railroad, you can visit its website at https://ourrescue.org