Community Connections - Kalamazoo Pickleball0
In 1965, pickleball, a sport that combines aspects of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, was created in Bainbridge Island, Wash. Fast forwarding to today, there are more than 3 million players in the United States alone, and it is one of the fastest growing sports in America.
In our latest Community Connections entry, we connect with a group that has helped introduce pickleball to Kalamazoo.
“Pickleball is a fantastic activity for all ages,” said James Hackenberg, President of Kalamazoo Pickleball. “My wife’s mother who is 95 has played as well as our daughter and granddaughter. The beauty of the game is you don’t need much equipment aside from a paddle, ball, and tennis shoes. The game is simple to play, easier on the body than a sport like tennis, and very social.
“A lot of people dismissed it because it was initially labeled as an older person’s sport, but now you are seeing it grow in popularity among young adults and former top-level tennis players,” he said.
Fifteen years ago, Kalamazoo Pickleball was formed by Bob Northrop and Melissa Muha to introduce newcomers to the sport. Today, the group consists of 125 members.
“We host a weekly Friday night drop-in that is open to the public from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at Ramona Park,” Hackenberg shared. “We also put on clinics for players of varying skill levels.”
In addition to clinics and drop-ins, Kalamazoo Pickleball also hosts tournaments. Scheduled for July 14-15, the Latitude 42 Senior Pro Open tournament sanctioned by USA Pickleball will feature top-level men’s, women’s, and mixed doubles competing for cash prizes totaling $22,000.
Pickleball Fever in the Zoo is an open age and skill level event scheduled for July 16-18.
Both tournaments will be held at the Texas Township 6th Street Park.
Despite the sport’s steady growth, Hackenberg still sees room for improvement. That is why he and his wife started a nonprofit called Pickleball Outreach to help build the sport’s popularity. Pickleball Outreach has helped raise $90,000 for the construction and renovation of pickleball courts throughout local communities.
“One-hundred percent of the donations we raise go toward promoting health, wellness, character, and sportsmanship,” he explained. “My wife and I tried pickleball, fell in love with it, and we want to pass it forward.”
Pickleball has developed a strong following in Kalamazoo during the last decade and a half. Hackenberg said he is thankful for the relationships the sport has helped him build and hopes that future generations continue to share his appreciation.
“The game’s popularity has exploded, and I am just grateful to have been involved,” he said. “Someday, I would like to see pickleball become more prominent in the schools.”
Thanks to Kalamazoo Pickleball and local enthusiasts for showing us a thing or two about this fascinating sport. If you are interested in taking up pickleball, connect with the group’s Facebook page for more information. For tournament details, visit pickleballtournaments.com.