Clinton Township man finds passion in pickleball

By: Nico Rubello | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published April 5, 2012

 Phil Ciaramitaro of Clinton Township displays his pickleball paddles. The custom artwork was done by his son, Fred Ciaramitaro.

Phil Ciaramitaro of Clinton Township displays his pickleball paddles. The custom artwork was done by his son, Fred Ciaramitaro.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Down in his basement workshop, Phil Ciaramitaro eyes each pickleball paddle that he makes with the kind of craftsman’s eye that working 45 years as a machinist will give you.

For the last two years, he’s been selling his paddles, each like an oversized ping-pong paddle and each bearing the letters PAC — both his initials and brand name. If it has his name on it, he has to be happy with it, he explained.

“He’s the kind of guy who sees something and he thinks, ‘I can make that,’” said Jo Ciaramitaro, his wife who handles much of the clerical end of the paddle-making business. “He’s one of those people who has to be doing something all the time.”

That explains why, during the span of just a few years, the retired 69-year-old Clinton Township resident has gone from knowing absolutely nothing about pickleball to having his own line of paddles and being one of the sport’s biggest promoters in Macomb County.

About a year ago, the USA Pickleball Association approved him as one of two official pickleball ambassadors for Macomb County and as an ambassador for St. Clair County.

If you don’t know what pickleball is, consider a cross between tennis and ping-pong, in which players use paddles to volley a perforated plastic ball back and forth on a badminton-size court.

The fast-paced but low-impact nature of the game has made it popular among seniors nationwide.

Ciaramitaro’s passion for pickleball started quite literally with a passing curiosity. Walking down the hallway of the Macomb Township Recreation Center, he would glance through windows into the gym and see pickleball players. Each time he went down the hallway, he walked a little slower, peering through the glass to see the players darting around the court, floating underhanded taps and firing overhand smashes over the net, trying to make their opponents miss the ball.

One day, he finally walked in. The group inside welcomed him, someone loaned him a paddle, and he took to the game immediately.

Nowadays, it’s Ciaramitaro who’s doing the welcoming.

“He’s very social,” said Kathy Western, Macomb County’s other pickleball ambassador. Like Ciaramitaro, she frequents the Macomb Township Recreation Center’s pickleball sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. “He’s very encouraging to people. People will be standing out in the hallway … and he will come off the court and encourage them to play,” she added.

In all, Ciaramitaro plays nearly five days a week. When he’s not playing for fun in Macomb Township, he’s running pickleball demonstrations at various communities around Macomb County.

After his first encounter with pickleball, he decided to make his own paddle. He traced one on a garbage bag, and within two days, had produced two paddles with his own slight modifications.

To those who know him, it seemed natural that he would do so. For years, he had manufactured and sold his own PAC-brand custom knives. They had earned accolades in national knife collectors’ publications, such as Knives Illustrated.

When he started getting requests, he expanded the operation. Using the machines in his basement workshop, he hand-makes each paddle out of balsa wood or high-density foam, and with an exterior of black laminate or aluminum.

To date, he’s sold several hundred PAC paddles using the same decorative, detailed-oriented focus he applied in making knives. He began by giving his paddles to other pickleball players for field testing. If they broke, he would examine why they broke and improve on the design.

Outside of Michigan, his paddles — which currently come in four varieties — have sold in Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina. Last year, the USA Paddleball Association certified PAC paddles as acceptable in tournament competition.

And, though he avoids computers when possible, the paddles are sold through a website set up by his son, Fred Ciaramitaro, and son-in-law, Doug Trocino. Jo Ciaramitaro handles the orders.

“Because of the growing popularity of the sport, I really think there is a huge potential for his paddles, as well as promoting the sport,” she said. “We’re kind of like the continual little entrepreneurs, in and out of business. There’s always something we’re sure we can do. Some are more successful than others.”

When he’s not making paddles or teaching others how to play pickleball, Phil Ciaramitaro is helping open pickleball courts. So far, he has had a hand in bringing pickleball courts to New Baltimore, Eastpointe and Romeo. On May 3, that list will include an outdoor court in Washington Township.

Still, he hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he wants to accomplish with the sport. He is continuing to develop new paddle models all the time. And he also hopes to see the game introduced to younger generations by advocating that schools add pickleball to their physical education curriculum.

He would like to see youth pickleball leagues for boys and girls, as well.

“I want to get this sport in as many places as I can get it,” he said.

For more information about Ciaramitaro’s PAC paddles, go to www.pacpickleballpaddles.com.

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