HURON TWP. — Much like the sport of pickleball itself, the Firelands Area Pickleball Association (FAPA) continues to expand.
The local club that started in 2014 with 12 members playing at Fabens Park has grown exponentially over the past five years.
Now there are more than 100 FAPA members who play outdoors at Osborn MetroPark and indoors at Baywinds Athletic Club.
In 2015, the Erie MetroParks converted one of two tennis courts into four regulation-size pickleball courts and they’re currently in the process of building four additional courts, which will debut this summer.
“This just steamrolled, having our own courts, and a place we call home,” FAPA president Mike Wohl said. “We have a great relationship with Osborn, which allowed us to not only have (the original pickleball) courts, but to paint these (lines on the remaining tennis court), and we’ve expanded and then they’re providing us these four new courts.”
Wohl added that park director Amy Bowman-Moore has done a lot to help the association.
“She’s been fantastic to work with,” he said. “She’s really good at working on the facilities and so forth. She’s done a lot for us.”
In the winter months, Wohl said they’ve played at a few different places, including the former YMCA and Huron St. Peter’s gym before striking a deal with Baywinds owner Carl Heuckroth.
“We were able to paint six courts on the tennis courts over at Baywinds,” Wohl said. “It worked out very well. We bought some nets, we painted the lines on their tennis courts, which (Heuckroth) allowed us to do, and we had a great winter there.
“That’s how we’ve grown,” he added. “Being able to play year-round is very important. We have snowbirds, I was a snowbird, but we have a great group that stays around here in the winter and continued playing, and we will work on expanding that this winter.”
Just like they had hoped when the original courts debuted in 2015, FAPA will host a regional tournament, the Vacationland Pickleball Tournament, Aug. 17-18 after construction on the new courts has concluded.
The tournament has entries from 108 pickleball players from all over the country. It could grow to 120-130 players before registration closes.
Former president and current club ambassador Bob Eirons said the organization’s growth has allowed the new courts to be built, and the new courts then allow the club to host the tournament.
“When we started at Fabens, we had to tape the lines there and they had us pull the lines every time,” he said. “So, we looked around and I saw these tennis courts were not being used at all. So that’s what started us with the MetroParks. We started talking to them and a year later they helped us out and put these four courts in. I told them at that time, that we would grow.
“Last year we asked them for more courts and they said we hadn’t grown enough and they were right. Then this year we went back and they saw the growth, so now that allows us to have our tournament here. If we didn’t have those courts, we wouldn’t be able to have the tournament, so we’re very appreciative of the MetroParks.”
Pickleball’s growth nationwide was up 12 percent from 2017, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) 2018 Pickleball Participation Report. It was reported that the sport has 3.1 million players in the United States.
Eirons attributes the growth of the sports to its inclusivity and ability to be played by men and women of all ages.
“Pickleball is known to be a very friendly sport,” he said. “You’re never a stranger here. We really are an inclusive, not exclusive community — and that’s anywhere you go. You can go on the USAPA website and look for places to play, and go there and it’ll be the same way. You walk in, you’re welcomed.”
Added Wohl, “We’re as much a social organization as we are an organization for pickleball.”
FAPA members have enjoyed success in recent tournaments, with Eirons winning a national championship in his age group at the USAPA U.S. Open in Naples, Florida.
“That’s quite an honor, to be a winner at any level, and at his level he played fantastic,” Wohl said of Eirons. “We had eyewitnesses, some other club members who were down there playing — we were getting game-by-game updates.”
Husband and wife duo Yugi and Sakae Tanaka recently won the Avon Oaks Spring Shootout at the 3.5 level.
The association plays from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday at Osborn MetroPark (weather permitting), and is always looking to add new members. They provide free lessons for those interested in learning the sport, and have members from Erie, Huron, Ottawa and Lorain counties, and beyond.
“We’ll supply paddles, balls, everything for three weeks, and then they can make their decision on if they want to continue,” Eirons said. “But they can come to the parties for as long as they want.”
Those who choose to continue with the club pay a $30 membership fee, which includes, among other things, group insurance, balls, social activities and a discount at Baywinds.
Where are the pickles?
Pickleball, which began on Bainbridge Island, Washington (near Seattle), as a way to relieve summer boredom, has nothing to do with actual pickled cucumbers.
Pickleball, which combines features of badminton, ping-pong and tennis, was invented in 1965 by congressman Joel Pritchard, successful businessman Bill Bell and Barney McCallum.
Played with paddles slightly larger than ping-pong paddles, a ball similar to a Wiffle ball and on a badminton-sized court, pickleball can be played either as a doubles or singles sport.
According to the USAPA website, accounts of the origin story of the name differ. Pritchard’s wife Joan, said she started calling the game pickleball because, “The combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew, where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”
McCallum, however, said the game was named after the Pritchard family’s dog Pickles, who would chase the ball and run off with it.
In a 2009 blog for the Bainbridge Conversation, Tristan Baurick debunks the Pickles the dog story, writing that Pritchard’s daughter Peggy Pritchard-Olson stated in 2005, “There’s the ‘official’ history and then there’s the real story. It was not named after the dog because we didn’t get the dog until years after the game started. The dog was named after the game, not the other way around.”