Allegan resident discovers pleasures of pickleball

By: 
Jason Wesseldyk

Mark Barber’s introduction to pickleball happened by chance.
“My 81-year-old father and I were bike riding in Punta Gorda, Florida, last year at Thanksgiving and I heard this strange sound on what I thought were tennis courts,” said Barber, an Allegan resident who spends his winters down south. “I said something to him and he said, ‘That’s pickleball.’
“So we rode over and watched for a while.”
And how would Barber describe what he saw?
“It’s big table tennis with a Wiffle ball or small tennis without the overhead serve using a Wiffle ball,” he said of the sport, which is played with two to four players using solid paddles to hit a Wiffle ball-type sphere over 34-to-36-inch-high nets on 20x44-foot courts.
Intrigued, Barber decided to do a little research on the sport, recruiting his brother-in-law—who lives in the same complex in Florida—to help.
“We found several places to learn how to play and then in January they started a club where we live,” Barber said. “We showed up the first morning and we had 12 players. A few had played before, but for the most part we were all new players.
“One of the cool things about the sport is they set times to play and people show up religiously.”
Before long, Barber was hooked.
“It was a game similar to tennis, but the smaller court made it easier on the aging body,” he said. “I liked the way points lasted for a long time and the workout achieved in the hour-and-a-half of play helped with some much needed weight loss.”
So when he returned to Michigan in the spring, Barber began searching for places to play in the area.
That led him to Saugatuck, where he found a club that had been started by Stephen Lewis.
“I started playing a couple years ago with about 10 or 12 other people, adapting Saugatuck’s Butler Street tennis and basketball courts for our games,” Lewis said. “Early last summer, I put out notices we were looking for more participants. We have more than 60 players on our roster now and it just keeps growing.”
The sport became so popular in the Saugatuck area, in fact, that Lewis and fellow pickleball enthusiast Walt Lawrence approached both Saugatuck and Douglas, offering $10,000 each towards converting existing tennis courts or building new courts on which to play.
In the end, Douglas took the pair up on the offer and constructed eight pickleball courts at Schultz Park, with a dedication ceremony taking place on Monday, June 29.
Barber was among those on hand for the festivities.
“The courts in Douglas are great, the best I have played on,” Barber said. “The game is played in many different places: indoor gyms, public tennis courts, churches. Most of these have several sets of lines for each sport played at the facility, so it can be somewhat confusing to say the least.
“Douglas has eight dedicated courts for just pickleball. We’re very lucky to have it close to Allegan.”
 

For full story, pick up a copy of the July 9 issue of The Allegan County News or subscribe to the e-edition.

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