A place for pickleball: Armory to house America’s fastest growing sport

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MANISTEE — Pickleball is widely considered the fastest growing sport in America, and it’s about to blossom in Manistee.

A local group of pickleball enthusiasts, who have played the sport for years, have found a new home for their hobby in Manistee’s Armory Youth Project, located at 555 First St.

“We’ve played all around the county,” said Jan Exo. “In the summer, we’ve found courts in Onekama, Arcadia, Bear Lake and here in Manistee, and in the winter we’ve been playing at the Portage Lake Bible Camp the last three years.

“But when this opened up, we thought it’d be a great way to get more people involved, and to help out the Armory Youth Project at the same time.”

This fall, the group will rent the gym from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning Sept. 5 and running through Dec. 20.

In hopes of spreading interest for the sport, the sessions are open to all who are interested — men and women of any age and skill level.

“Some people wonder what in the world is pickleball, and where can you play it?” Exo said. “Now that we’re right in Manistee, we want people to know it’s out there.

“It’s the perfect time to try to get the community involved,” she said. “I haven’t met anyone yet who has played and didn’t like it.”

Pickleball is a net and paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong with its own specially designed paddles and ball. It can be played indoors or outdoors within badminton-sized boundaries with a slightly modified tennis net. Similar to tennis, competition can be one-on-one (singles) or two-on-two (doubles).

“I play tennis and pickleball, and pickleball is a lot easier to play,” said Pete Ramon of the pickleball group. “Even a non-skilled player can have fun with it. … But it’s also a really great way to exercise, especially as you get older.”

During the sessions, the group will have four courts available to accommodate all skill levels. One will even be reserved for newcomers to the sport.

“If we have someone new to the game, we’ll use one court for lessons and we’ll take turns teaching them the basics,” Exo said. “They’ll gradually work their way to playing with the rest of us.”

The group will have spare equipment available for those who don’t bring their own.

To offset the cost for rent, the group is asking participants to pay a small fee for use of the courts. Players can pay a lump sum for the full season or a per-day price each time they play. Money paid to the group will go to the Armory Youth Project. For more information on cost or participation, one should call Ramon at (231) 398-2821.

For the group, playing the sport has been somewhat of a family affair.

“A big part of it is fitness, but we’ve really become like a family,” Exo said.

“I like playing against my brother more than anything,” Ramon added. “At (age) 75 and 73, to play any kind of sport against your brother is great, and this sport is perfect for us.”

The group is also interested in attracting youth to the game, which is fine by Robert Carpenter, the executive director of the Armory Youth Project.

“A couple of the pickleball players are volunteers here as well,” he said, “and they’re really passionate about trying to create another outlet for kids.

“Whether the kids want to join them during their session or if (the group is) willing to work with them after school, it’s definitely something we’re looking into.”

Among the group is Peggy Acton, a recent gold medalist in pickleball at the Michigan Senior Olympics.

“Having people in here who are skilled and love what they do, that’s what we’re looking for,” Carpenter said. “The kids will see that enthusiasm and latch right on to it, no matter the activity.”

The Armory Youth Project, which officially opened in June, is welcoming to groups looking to rent space in the facility.

“We have rent applications for any group that is interested in renting out space, during the day, during the non-program hours, we would love to have them in here,” Carpenter said. “It can be anything from exercise classes to groups who want to hold meetings here.

“We have a rental committee that reviews all the applications to make sure that there’s space and time available,” he explained. “The big thing is to make sure it works around the programs we have here, because we don’t want to sacrifice the kids’ space.”

Those interested can pick up an application at the armory or call (231) 299-1205.

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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