LIMA — Four years ago, Johann Kramer was asked to play pickleball. Not sure what she was getting into she gave it a try.
“I was hooked the first time,” said Kramer after a spirited game at the Bradfield Center on Tuesday. “I was hooked because it is good upper body exercise and you don’t have to run all over the court. I love this better than all the other sports I have played.”
Kramer is part of approximately 50 people who play pickleball in Lima and she is part of a growing movement of players who want to see it continue to grow.
The lining of two new pickleball courts at the Collett Street Tennis Courts is a major step in seeing the sport increase in popularity in the city to those who oversee some of the active pickleball groups in Lima.
Lima was introduced to pickleball about 10 years ago when the Lima YWCA brought the sport to its facility and a small group of friends began to play the odd-named sport that resembles ping-pong on steroids. Played with a wiffle ball and hit with racquets that resemble oversized ping-pong paddles, the sport was introduced primarily for senior citizens.
Pickleball has steadily grown in Lima but has been stunted somewhat by the lack of a centralized facility for all the groups to meet and play. After the YWCA closed its doors, the players began to find different places to play and soon a number of splinter groups in Lima formed. Pickleball is played at the Bradfield Center, the YMCA, the Westside Swim and Racquet Club and the Elida High School tennis courts.
With scheduling conflicts and time constraints the pickleball groups have to pick and choose when they can play and that inhibits some players from playing due to scheduling issues. This also keeps the groups from interacting with other groups and that hurts the sport from growing.
But that could be changing with the Collett Street courts being added this summer. Those spearheading some of those groups said they feel the addition of those two courts at the Collett location could lead to the sport growing even more and unifying all the splinter groups to possibly form a league as well as playing host to tournaments.
Mary Latimer, who plays at the Bradfield Center, said the addition of the lined pickleball courts at Collett is huge because it allows everyone to come to one centralized location.
Latimer said Holland, Ohio, is a prime example of how the sport can grow with a a dedicated place to play pickleball. She said about three years ago the mayor of Holland went to Florida to witness the sport and immediately came back to Holland and built three courts. She said they started with 18 players and it grew to 50 by the end of that summer and now it has grown to more than 200 players.
“It is one of those catch-22s,” Latimer said. “The powers that be in the city want to see those numbers and want to see people playing but how do you grow a sport if there isn’t a place to play? But it has been proven time and time again that if you build it they will come. I think Lima could really stand to benefit not only from a health standpoint but from an economic standpoint because they would pull people in from the neighboring communities to play.”
Latimer added that her long term goal is to have six courts dedicated to pickleball.
Tyler and Tanner Hunt, co-founders of the Great American Pickle Ball Club of Lima, echo Latimer’s sentiment and envision Lima organizing leagues and tournaments.
“We have a very good base here,” Hunt said. “We have very few places to play and a lot of people want to play. Toledo has a great facility and I think we are capable of outdoing what they have if we get the right support from city council and some of the schools in the area. I would just love to see some movement from the city council and show them how much revenue pickleball brings.”
Hunt said he played at Toledo last week in a tournament and saw the amount of money that was generated from players who came from all over the state to participate in the Toledo tournament.
Even though pickleball was a sport introduced for senior citizens, Hunt represents a younger generation of pickleball players wanting to compete in the sport. In his 20s, Hunt and his wife, Chelsea, saw the game being played in Florida last spring and wanted to continue to play in Lima.
Soon Hunt found himself immersed in learning the rules and wanting to improve. However, his choices of where to play were limited for a number of reasons.
Initially the group tried to play at Robb Park, which has one court lined for pickleball, but the facilities are less than ideal with loose dogs and children interfering with play. Hunt, who has played at the Bradfield Center, could not do it on a regular basis due to the time of day the Bradfield group usually plays which is Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
Hunt also said one of the reasons he did not frequently interact at the other places such as the Bradfield Center or the YMCA group was that you had to be a member.
Hunt’s club was aided when the Elida High School tennis courts were lined for pickleball play.
“There was really no option other than to play in the evening or at the high school so that is why we started our own thing,” Hunt said.
At the Elida courts, Hunt and his family would gather for family bonding and some exercise after a hard day of work.
Hunt and Lattimer are enthusiastic about pickleball because they see it not only as an opportunity to get in shape but also as a way to promote fellowship and camaraderie among the players.
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468 or on twitter at @JoseNogueras1.