Residents from Farmington Hills and surrounding areas gather in the Costick Activities Center gym to play pickleball, which is offered through the Adults 50 and Better Division.

Residents from Farmington Hills and surrounding areas gather in the Costick Activities Center gym to play pickleball, which is offered through the Adults 50 and Better Division.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Pickleball’s growing popularity creates need for more courts, all-age programs

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published November 5, 2019

 William Mays, of Farmington Hills, serves up a volley at the Costick Activities Center Oct. 30. He’s been playing the sport for two years.

William Mays, of Farmington Hills, serves up a volley at the Costick Activities Center Oct. 30. He’s been playing the sport for two years.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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FARMINGTON HILLS — If you’ve wandered by the Costick Activities Center gymnasium on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday morning, or a Tuesday afternoon, you might have seen a group of seniors playing a racquet sport you don’t recognize.

It’s not tennis. It’s not racquetball. It’s not badminton, either. It certainly resembles and borrows elements from each sport: It’s pickleball.

The game — which dates back to 1965 and was created by Washington state Rep. Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell, who formed the game one afternoon in Pritchard’s backyard — has become one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation. By 1990, the sport was being played in all 50 states.

Justin Maloof, the executive director of the USA Pickleball Association, said the United States currently has approximately 3.3 million pickleball players, an almost 900% increase from the number of participants in 2013. He believes the sport will gross a 1,000% increase from 2013 to the end of this year.

Maloof said that prior to a few years ago, the game was known as a seniors-only sport, but lately the sport has seen a big increase among youths and working-age adults.

“As the sport has migrated north and into communities in general and the game has made its way into the mainstream, we’re seeing more cities add courts. What that’s doing is making the game more accessible to kids, young adults (and) millennials, not just seniors anymore,” Maloof said. “As more courts become available to the general public, we’re seeing that age demographic shift and lower.”

Three years ago, Farmington Hills started its pickleball program under the Adults 50 and Better Division, which sees a group of regulars and the occasional newcomer drop in and play at the Costick Center four times a week.

With Harrison High School transitioning to the new community center — The Hawk — and knowledge that the sport is growing, Marsha Koet, the Adults 50 and Better program supervisor, said she’s hoping the city can grow its existing program to include people of all ages.

Koet said she’s working on trying to establish a Sunday evening drop-in pickleball session that would cater more to families and those who can’t make the weekday sessions due to school or work. She’s also hoping the city will dedicate some indoor or outdoor space for new, additional courts at The Hawk, because currently, the lack of playable space in the city is what’s putting a halt to any expansions.

Shelley St. Amand, a USAPA ambassador for Farmington Hills, West Bloomfield and Northville, said he’s really been trying to push Farmington Hills to build more courts or more family-oriented programming. He said the city is a bit slower to expand than the other two cities he works with.

“With the conversion of the community center, we’ve asked about indoor courts and expanding, but we’re told there’s competition with basketball and other programs,” St. Amand said. “There might not be indoor courts, but maybe outdoor courts. We’ve been trying to stoke the fire, explaining that the city needs more facilities and courts, but it’s been a slow process.”

St. Amand said that because pickleball courts are much smaller than tennis courts, approximately four pickleball courts can fit in the space of one full-size tennis court. As the city plans to renovate the tennis courts at The Hawk, he’s hoping city staff will be willing to dedicate and renovate a few courts specifically for pickleball. He said that would open up the possibility for the city to hold tournaments and ladders, and to become a destination for pickleball.

“Farmington Hills is a central-located area that could have huge tournaments,” said St. Amand’s wife, Judy Amand, who is also a USAPA ambassador. “It would be exciting.”

Koet anticipates that as the city is able to build more programming around the sport, tournaments and competitive play will likely follow.

“Moving forward, we would like to partner with agencies and do tournaments and things like that,” she said. “We definitely see that potential for growth, and as we refurbish the outdoor courts at The Hawk, we see some great space for some pickleball courts.”

Currently, pickleball is offered as an Adults 50 and Better program 9-11:30 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and 12:15-2 p.m. Tuesdays at the Costick Center. The city’s pickleball program has also partnered with The Practice Zone, 24164 Haggerty Road, to offer discounted beginner classes taught by coach Fred Procter.

Procter said The Practice Zone will offer a youth pickleball program 6-7:30 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 10-Dec. 15, for children ages 10-16. The Practice Zone also offers open sessions 9-11 a.m. Saturdays for people of all ages to come out and play.

For more information on pickleball, visit usapa.org. To find places to play in the area, visit places2play.org.

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