Santa Rosa company becomes official CBD supplier of the Professional Pickleball Association

It was a tale of two racquet sports. Howarth Park’s five tennis courts were deserted around 5:30 on a recent afternoon, with the exception of a lone man hitting a backboard.

A short distance away, the park’s four pickleball courts were filled with four players each, laughing, shouting, accompanied by a bass beat and the lyrical stylings of Santa Rosa’s Max Heller, aka Chief Maxtaa semi-pro pickleballer who’s also the sport’s unofficial poet laureate, as evidenced by these hip-hop verses from his song, “What You Know About Pickleball”:

“Out here in a pickle when it’s hotter than a sauna/

But I always keep it fresh, like the next volley llama.”

Heller and her sister Heidi faced off in a spirited doubles match against their mother, Cheryl, and her fiance, a stiff, grinning man in a white cap emblazoned with the legend: Medicileaf.

This was Don Shaffer, who had reason to smile, even though he had just lost back-to-back points by hitting dink attempts on net.

The 60-year-old from Rincon Valley has hitched his wagon to a couple of rising stars. Medicileafthe company he and Cheryl started in 2015, recently became the official CBD supplier of the Professional Pickleball Association. They travel with the professional tour, testifying under the shadow of their Medicileaf brand pop-up tent to the wonders and benefits of both this booming sport and their topical creams, tinctures and sprays, none of which, they stress, contain THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Football takes a sea backt

Like many others who play it, Shaffer came to pickleball late in life. Along with his brothers Dave and Dwayne, he is a member of what some have described as Santa Rosa’s first football family. Dwayne is in his 25th season as the head men’s soccer coach at UC-Davis. Dave, who died in May, played football professionally before embarking on a successful coaching career.

Don Shaffer still loves the beautiful game, but has taken a back seat in his life to pickleball, a tennis-like activity played with paddles and a whiffle-like ball, described in almost all the stories written about andt as “the fastest growing sport in America.”

While a student at Santa Rosa Junior College in the late 1990s, Shaffer earned money giving private soccer lessons. After a coaching session, he was approached by the mother of a goalkeeper he had been teaching.

She was impressed by his training and encouraged him to pursue real estate. Shaffer did it and made a living.

A pill tray a foot long”

Shaffer was recovering from the Great Recession of 2008 when it branched out into the CBD space. It started in 2013 with a trip to Lake County to see his stepfather, Jim, a former Oregon Duck football player who suffered from Parkinson’s disease.

“He was basically a zombie,” Shaffer recalled, “and it wasn’t all Parkinson’s. It was all the medication he was taking, too. He had a foot-long pill tray.”

Shaffer had heard about cannabinoids (CBD) and their potential as holistic remedies. He started doing research. A friend gave him “his private potion,” a CBD product. After “boosting” it, Don gave it to his mother, who rubbed some on his knees, back, and shoulders.

“And he was up and walking within 20 minutes,” Don said. The family believes the CBD products helped extend Jim’s life more than five years beyond the doctor’s estimates.

Meanwhile, Don continued to research and tweak this “potion,” which became very popular with his friends dealing with the aches and pains of adult league football.

In 2015, Don and Cheryl started their company, Medicileaf. It was around this time that Don introduced one of the company’s products to the Emerald Cup, known as “the Oscars of the cannabis industry”.

I had reservations about it. “It cost me about $400,” he recalled. When he entered the pavilion where the products were displayed, his was not there. Then a woman told him, “that means you made it to the finals.”

Even though he didn’t win, “we got beat by Whoopi Goldberg’s salve, or something,” Shaffer felt validated.

Weaning off painkillers

As the studies began to arrive, at least partially confirming the medicinal value of CBD, the space was filled. Medicileaf caught on, helped by its loyal local customer base and its owners’ dedication to producing “high-quality products,” as Don put it. “All my stuff is tested with 99.9% pure CBD. The plants are organically grown, pesticide free, GMP certified.”

Among the company’s paid representatives is NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry, who tweeted last year that “I was able to completely break my dependence on painkillers” after experiencing the “benefits natural for health” of Medicileaf products.

About three years ago, a Medicileaf distributor in Utah, a football player Shaffer had once coached, called him with news. He had taken up pickleball and often played with the two founders of the Professional Pickleball Association.

One had used a Medicileaf salve, loved it, and wanted to meet Shaffer. The tour was looking to bring in an official CBD supplier. In the end, the Professional Pickleball Association interviewed eight suppliers and chose Medicileaf.

“Cheryl and I were kind of shocked,” Shaffer recalled. “We hadn’t spent any money on marketing.”

Being a sponsor would require frequent travel: on average, two tournaments a month. “But we love to travel. So we said: ‘Let’s go'”.

In addition to growing the company, many of the sports professionals are avid users of Medicileaf products, they have dramatically increased their circle of friends.

Even though they’ve only been playing the sport for less than two years, Cheryl said between games at Howarth Park, it really has changed our lives.

“I didn’t know any of these people two years ago,” Don added, gesturing to the two dozen players on the courts and waiting on the sidelines. “And I know I know them all.”

Writer Austin Murphy can be reached at or on Twitter @ausmurph88.

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