SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Shelby Township’s River Bends Park is now host to a unique type of recreational activity. On Sept. 5, the sound of laughter, small talk and jovial heckling, mingled with the dull thwack of paddle on Wiffle ball, filled the park.
The name of the game is pickleball, and, according to Ray Snay, a U.S.A. Pickleball Association ambassador for southeast Michigan, it is the fastest growing sport in the U.S.
Pickleball is a combination of tennis, table tennis and badminton and played on a court similar to a tennis court, but smaller in size and with a net two inches lower. Players use a paddle larger than a ping pong paddle and a ball similar to a Wiffle ball — white, plastic and with holes in it.
Scoring, Snay said, is also less confusing — the winner is the first person to reach 11 points.
“Pickleball is mostly played by people 50 and older,” he said, because it’s easier on the back and knees playing in a smaller court, and the paddles and ball are larger. “It’s just a lot of fun.”
Snay, a 67-year-old resident of Shelby Township, began playing pickleball for health reasons in November 2011.
“I needed exercise after having a quadruple bypass,” he said. “I was a home builder for 40 years, and when I retired because of my heart and everything, I had no hobbies, no nothing. I live for this now.”
Snay said he had the quadruple bypass, high cholesterol and needed four shots of insulin daily for diabetes before playing pickleball. Now, his cholesterol is normal, he is not on any diabetic pills and he has lost 50 pounds.
“I try to be out there five or six days a week,” he said. “Right now, I’m in the process of getting a list of the people who want to be on the Shelby Township pickleball email list,” he said.
He said usually about 30 people show up every day. On Thursday morning, 20 senior citizens hit the courts, sat in camping chairs and munched on light snacks.
“What I enjoy most about (pickleball) is I have adopted a whole new family,” said Phil Ciaramitaro, of Clinton Township. “These are such nice people, and we have a lot of fun together.”
Ciaramitaro is a U.S.A. Pickleball Association ambassador for Macomb and St. Clair Counties and has opened pickleball courts in Washington Township, Romeo and Eastpointe. He also began manufacturing pickleball paddles.
“I’ve been in the manufacturing business all my life, and if I know I can make it, I’ll make it before I buy it,” he said. “I have four styles of my own, and this year, I made one for Mr. Pickleball himself, Coach Mo out of Florida, and he sells them.”
Ciaramitaro said his paddles are used all over the country.
Snay collaborated with the director of the Parks, Recreation and Maintenance Department, Joe Youngblood, to bring three pickleball courts to an existing slab of concrete in River Bends Park.
Youngblood said Snay came to him with pictures of pickleball courts and said that there were no outdoor pickleball courts in the area.
“The cement was already there and the fencing, so we thought it would be great to make that cement usable,” Youngblood said. “During the winter, we flooded the rink and the only thing it was used for was ice skating, so now it will be multipurpose.”
The poles for the court were built in-house, Youngblood said, and Shelby Paint is raising funds to pay for the cost of painting the court and purchasing nets, so there will likely be no cost to the township for the project.
Brian Eisbrenner, president of Shelby Paint, said Benjamin Moore is donating a dollar for every gallon of premium paint sold at Shelby Paint’s three locations from Aug. 15 to Sept. 30 through a program geared toward supporting community service projects.
“It’s not just paint,” he said. “They can use the money for upgrading anything at River Bends Park the way they want to.”
Last year, Shelby Paint raised $1,300 for Shelby Township park initiatives, but Eisbrenner said he hopes to reach $2,000 this year.
Two gentlemen in Washington created the game in their backyard and could not figure what to call it, Snay said. Their dog would steal the ball and run away with it, so they named it after the dog, Pickles.
The pickleball courts at River Bends Park are open to the public every day from 9 a.m. to dusk.
For more information about pickleball, visit the official website at www.usapa.org.