By Matt Jensen, STN Reporter
You’ve probably heard of the new phenomenon that’s sweeping grass sports enthusiasts and serious athletes alike: Pickleball!
The simple sport has gained a massive fan base and two local pickleball enthusiasts, Christy Howden and Leslie White, have joined forces to meet growing demand with plans for a 17,500 square foot recreational facility on Metty Drive in Scio Twp with pickleball-Wolverine Pickleball.
“Our passion is to create a space where people feel seen and welcomed, where they can have fun and enjoy the health and social benefits that pickleball offers while connecting to a vibrant community!” says co-founder Chisty Howden.
A wild mix of all racquet sports, the upstart game has found its way into everyday spaces throughout professional sports celebrities. Played with paddles in a smaller version of a tennis court, pickleball has rules reminiscent of racquetball, table tennis and badminton.
The sport was founded in 1965 by friends creating a game for their children and slowly gained traction over the decades until it came to mainstream attention in 1990 when it had racked up members in all 50 states. It now boasts famous defenders like retired NFL quarterback Drew Brees, NBA star Lebron James and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk.
While the sport initially gained its devoted following in the snowbird and retirement communities, it made the leap from the Arizona Senior Olympics in 2001 to have an estimated 3.3 million players in 2019. one would imagine the Covid pandemic would halt its rapid growth, Pickleball has rebounded, becoming the fastest growing sport in the United States in 2021 and 2022, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. There are now nearly 5 million players.
This type of growth can put a strain on the infrastructure of any sport and, as one might guess, a potential impediment to its continued growth is the lack of Pickleball courts on which new players can learn and play. That’s where the dynamic duo of Christy Howden and Leslie White come in. Interestingly, their history correlates with the inventors of Pickleball. The women met while entertaining their children at volleyball events, and their connection was instantaneous. Not only were they moms and passionate about sports, but they also loved Pickleball!
Putting their business savvy together, these women identified a joint venture that would capitalize on the massive influx of new Pickleball enthusiasts and their mutual desire for more space to play. And while they were at it, why not provide all the other things they felt were missing in the sport? After combining their interests and business experience, they added a touch of friendship and decided to create Wolverine Pickleball with one main goal in mind.
While this collaboration initially blossomed in 2020, this fall and winter they will be working to unlock a much larger iteration of their vision. Opening in the summer of 2023, the new Wolverine Pickleball facility will house 12 full-size Pickleball courts. The outdoor space will offer four pétanque courts, six sand volleyball courts, a cornhole, a ball ladder and other outdoor games. Facilities will include a sporting goods store, lockers, showers, dining room, food truck space and a full bar. Wolverine Pickleball plans to continue hosting private and public events, with the expansion making pop-up and catered events possible.
“Pickleball is quick to learn!” said Christy Howden. “One hour lesson is all you need to know if you like it, which we bet you will. It’s also a great team bonding event or an event for a group of friends to try together.
If you’re curious about hosting your own Pickleball party, you don’t have to wait for the new facility! Their current location has resources you can use while waiting. Start by visiting their website: wolverinepickleball.com. You can register to play, become a member, find resources for beginners or advanced players, and learn about their products and services in the Pickleball Store.