Growing Pickleball in the Ann Arbor Area

Dear City Council Members and Parks Commissioners,

My name is Tim Berla. I’m a local pickleball player and organizer. I’ve appeared several times before PAC (and used to serve on it) but in the time of the pandemic I thought an email more appropriate. ( I would be happy to come to a future PAC meeting to present about this and answer questions, when it is safe to do so. )

First, thank you for the excellent pickleball facility at Leslie Park. I play there most days with a variety of friends. There are beginners and advanced players who share the courts. This summer there have been a few times when there was a little waiting, but in general everyone shares the courts and everyone gets to play.

I am also a tennis player and one difference I’m aware of is social. Most of the time, tennis players come to the courts together in groups, play with their group, and then leave. With pickleball it is quite common that players congregate and mix up and play with people they don’t even know. While there is no rule that mandates this, this is a very common occurrence. This is partly due to the fact that a typical game of pickleball is played to 11, and lasts 10 – 15 minutes. When a game ends, it is common for the winning team to stay on the court, split up, and get two new players to join for the next game. When all courts are full and there are players waiting, we will often create a paddle queue, where players place their paddles in order, and then when a game ends, the next 2 or 4 players are up for the next game. All of this makes the sport a great way for people to meet and socialize with each other.

Because of this social nature of play, I feel that it is important to have some facilities that have 4 or more courts. The few times there have been more players than the courts accommodate, we have usually got this court rotation to work, so no one has to wait too long. In tennis, it is common that a group of two or four players will stay on a court for an hour or more, even when there are others waiting.

Below are some pictures from Leslie Park, including a paddle queue when players were waiting.

This summer has seen significant growth in the sport from last year. Most weeks there are a few times when all six courts at Leslie Park are full. I anticipate that next summer, this could turn into a real problem unless some additional courts are built. This might come in the form of one or two courts spread out, but I am especially hoping for additional sites with 4 or more courts, to allow for group play.

One location that I think should be considered for pickleball is South Maple Park. The tennis/pickleball courts were resurfaced about 5 years ago I believe. Whatever method was used, it did not work well, and the surface there is already very degraded and should be replaced. If the current courts were converted to dedicated pickleball courts similar to those at Leslie Park, 6 or 8 courts would fit (depending on the exact size of the existing pavement). I think this might be a good site because it is on a different side of town from Leslie Park, so it would open up the sport to additional people. One small issue is that additional parking would be needed, though it looks like there are a few spots that would work for that.

Other locations that might work for tennis court conversion would be Buhr Park or Clinton Park or Vets Park. I don’t know the status of those courts or how much they are used for tennis, but I feel confident they will be used a lot if converted to pickleball. Of course it would also be possible to create pickleball courts from scratch at a location such as Vets Park, Southeast Area Park, Buhr Park, or Fuller Park.

Thanks for your time. If you have any questions (about such things as different configurations of pickleball courts) please don’t hesitate to ask.

Tim Berla

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