LIMA – A year ago, Tyler Hunt, along with family and friends, were part of a Lima faction enjoying pickleball with hopes that the sport would continue to grow in the area. The Hunt group, along with individuals who played at the Bradford Center and the YMCA, were part of the sport that has been tabbed ‘the fastest growing sport in the United States.”
Fast forward to this July and it is evident that Lima has become part of the burgeoning world of pickleball, which is a sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong.
“Our numbers are growing rapidly,” said Hunt, who has moved from the Elida courts to the Collett Street Courts where 20 players were battling it out on the courts Tuesday night. “We have seen a lot more players and a lot more interest. I am in contact with 125 people within Allen, Putnam and Van Wert County.”
It is not just Lima that has seen interest grow.
“I know some of the outlying communities have it,” said. Ron Dredge, an ambassador for the United States of America Pickleball Association,along with Hunt in Lima. “It’s growing. The community of Delphos has put together courts on Stadium Park courts. Kalida, if I understand it, is retro fitting their tennis courts to use for pickleball so it is huge.”
Even though pickleball is expanding, Hunt said the Lima area is in need of a lot more courts and a central location.
Hunt said that when the players come out to play at the Collett Street Courts, the individuals must tape off the dimensions of the pickleball court and then after they are done must strip away the tape which is time consuming and expensive.
Hunt credits the YMCA for helping them promote the sport and adding new courts in their building.
Alicia Bell, the YMCA Sports Director, also saw the sport begin to grow and the new Y facility has added four courts to accommodate the number of individuals looking to play pickleball. Bell added they were getting 18 to 20 players showing up to play.
Hunt is hoping in the short term that they can establish a home base for pickleball in order to bring all the players together and eventually hold tournaments and possibly begin leagues.
Hunt points out that it took about two weeks to organize the play at the Collett Street Courts because of the various factions who play pickleball.
“We would to have one central location. That is still the main goal,” Hunt said. “Having a home pickleball facility where everyone can come to in the community would provide a home court where people can come and you can mix together the different factions who don’t intermingle very often because there is not really a home place to play and some people don’t like to play outdoors because of the net issue.”
When individuals play outdoors, they cannot adjust the netting which is different front from the standard regulation size pickleball measurements. Hunt said the tennis nets are the wrong height and the wrong size.
“There are some unique factors in pickleball where you can actually go around the net,” Hunt said. “You can’t do that with a tennis net on a tennis court.”
Hunt adds that a lot of people equate pickleball to tennis but there a wide variations such as the time and dimensions of the court. Most times pickleball games can last 15 minutes.
“Right now, Lima is the only community on this side of Ohio locally that does not have a pickleball facility,” Hunt said. “Toledo has three of them. Vandalia has one. Troy has one. Piqua has one and Middletown has 10 courts. Lima has a 100 people that want to play pickleball and we don’t have an outdoor pickleball court.”
Hunt understands that Lima has economic constraints but he feels if they could build a facility in Lima then they could put on a tournament and attract players from other communities to not only participate but spend money in Lima.
Earlier in April, a pickleball tournament was held that attracted individuals from Michigan and Troy.
“We went to a Toledo tournament a couple of weeks ago and there were at least $150 pariticpants,” Hunt said. “Each one of those players paid $50 to play in the tournament. We out there for three days and we went out to eat twice a day, stayed at a hotel and spent money up there. That is just one tournament. Lima is missing out on the opportunity economically.”
Hunt and Bell have both been talking to see if they can put on another local tournament.
Hunt said the economic benefits are one thing but also champions the positive effects of exercise and involvement pickleball brings to a community.
“It is a great way to lose weight and stay in shape and a great way to meet people in the community,” Hunt said. “Right now we have people in their 20s playing with people in their 60s that never would have spoken.”
Within the year, Hunt said he would like to see the Lima City Parks and Recreation Department come to them with a plan that would assist them in their pursuit of expanding pickleball.
Hunt points to the fact that they resurfaced the Collett Street courts but they majority of individuals using them are pickleball players who come out three times a week and he adds that rarely do you see anyone playing tennis on the courts.
“The main goal is to get something in the works where the possibility of getting a home pickleball facility,” Hunt said. “Our five year plan is to host an actual for this area and bring a little economic impact to the community and let them see what it provides.”
Hunt adds that he has been working with the city and the relationship has improved over the past year and said both parties are working together to see what they can accomplish.
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468 or on twitter at @JoseNogueras1