‘Dink’ responsibly. Don’t get smashed – The Thumb, Michigan

“Just so you know, this is an old person’s sport. But we’ll go easy on you.”

Welcome to nearly every conversation I encounter before competing in one America’s fastest growing sports: Pickleball.

Pickleball is a fun, active paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and pingpong. To recognize the sport, April has been designated as National Pickleball Month.

In the last year or so, pickleball has emerged and is on the rise in the Thumb. I first witnessed pickleball in action last summer while covering a parks and recreation event. Within a few minutes, I was interested.

I spoke with the woman running the event — Sherri Lynn Essian — about my interest and wanting to play sometime. Sure enough, later that night, I was standing on the court with a beat-up wooden paddle in my hand. (Thanks, Sherri Lynn!)

Disclaimer: Apparently wooden paddles are the worst types of paddles to use.

After watching four competitors play a few matches, I was starting to grasp a decent understanding of the game. The dos. The don’ts. What a “dink” is. The fact there is a “kitchen” on the court, but no food.

I also learned it’s an “old person’s sport.” Their words, not mine. I’ve been told some of the “older” more “experienced” players wouldn’t go easy on a young guy.

To the surprise of many of them, I was somewhat “good” during my first night of play.

Another disclaimer: I have a very strong tennis background.

I was able to hold my own, win a few matches and get a good workout in. By the end of the night, I overheard someone referring to me as “natural talent.”

Over the course of a few weeks, I was able to develop some strong pickleball skills. I also met a lot of great people in the process too — especially here in the Thumb.

Lately, I’ve been playing more competitively around in St. Clair County. The level of skill differs with everyone you play. Some players prefer to “dink it” while others like to put some pace on the ball — it’s really up to the player. My preference? Consistency.

I’ve learned people are willing to give you advice to help make your game better. They will give you tips and pointers on where you should or shouldn’t hit the ball. They might give you a few “beatings” in the process, but it’s all in good fun.

I’ve also tried to bring some “youth” to the sport by introducing it to my family members. My brother and I are quite the team, and we’re always looking for some competition. (Email me for details.)

If you’re interested in trying out pickleball, there are opportunities all over the Thumb nearly every day of the week. Check them out:

• Monday: From 6 to 9 p.m. at Bad Axe Middle School. Play will move outside after Memorial Day Weekend.

• Tuesday: From 10 a.m. to noon at the Port Hope Activity Center.

• Wednesday: From 10 a.m. to noon at the Harbor Beach Community Center.

• Thursday: From 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Port Hope Activity Center.

• Saturday: From 9:30 a.m. to noon at Caseville High School.

Stay up to date with all the latest pickleball happenings in the Thumb by liking “Bad Axe Pickleball Association” on Facebook.

I’m eager for the summer season to kick off and see some new faces on the court. I’ll be there. Wooden paddle and all. All I ask is you “don’t go easy on me.”

Bradley Massman is the assistant editor at the Huron Daily Tribune. He can be reached at bmassman@hearstnp.com

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