Arusha, a city in northeastern Tanzania, is home to nearly a half million residents. Majestic Mount Meru, a dormant volcano, rises to 14,968 feet, making a stunning backdrop to the city. Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa, is just 50 miles away.
This bustling city is home to the Tanzanian rugby national team with that sport being quite popular in this part of the world. Thanks to Laramie resident Michael Day and members of the Laramie Pickleball Association, at least a handful of residents were recently introduced to the sport of pickleball. Possibly it was the first time the sport was played anywhere in Tanzania.
For those unaware of the sport, pickleball combines aspects of table tennis, badminton and tennis. The gear is simple with a net, a paddle and a ball. Players wear typical workout gear; the only “must” is a good pair of sneakers.
The paddles resemble, but are larger than, those used in table tennis. The ball is a hard plastic whiffle ball.
Anyone visiting the Laramie Recreation Center about mid-morning on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as well as other times on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, know pickleball is popular here.
Day said he started playing pickleball only about 15 months ago with the urging of a friend.
“I recall maybe about a dozen people playing on that Sunday afternoon,” Day said. “One of the players took me under her wing and taught me some basics. She and the other players were very kind, supportive and encouraging. I was hooked. Pickleball is a great game and now I thoroughly enjoy the sport.”
Pickleball really took off in Laramie about three years ago. One of the impetuses for it becoming an activity at the Laramie Recreation Center was due to the upcoming Wyoming Senior Olympics. Laramie would be hosting the events and one of the most popular is pickleball. As host, Laramie wanted to also see if the sport could take off here, as it has elsewhere.
Day was a part of the increase in popularity that led to the formation of the Laramie Pickleball Association. He also took the time and effort to become nationally certified as an Adult Pickleball Coach and now teaches the Pickleball 101 clinics at the recreation center.
Day took his training with him to Arusha a few days before he planned to go on a two week safari in East Africa. This was Day’s ninth wildlife safari in East Africa and through his previous travels he met Peter Nanyaro, head guide with the Safari Guide Experts.
“I met Peter in 2006 when visiting the Serengeti and we stayed in contact,” Day said. “Peter visited my blog where I talk about my travels and saw a photograph I took about pickleball. He had never heard of it and, from there, we discussed having a pickleball clinic in Arusha.”
Some members of the Laramie Pickleball Association donated paddles and Day had some of the special tape to lay down the court. Nanyaro set up the clinic at the Gymkhana Club in Arusha, using an old tennis court.
Day had four students take part in the clinic. All four were considerably younger than those who typically play at the Laramie Recreation Center, but showed similar enthusiasm for the game.
Day said there is a growing population in Arusha that have a little leisure time, compared to those who must focus on their basic needs.
“We joked that if those four young men stick with it, they could be on the Tanzanian pickleball team when the sport makes it into the Olympics,” Day said. “For now, we got something started and who knows where it will go from here.”
As the popularity grows and the equipment Day provided wears out, more paddles, tape and balls will be needed. Day said he’ll send “care packages” to Nanyaro occasionally to increase and replaced the equipment.
Anyone wanting to donate pickleball paddles can contact Day by calling (307) 394-1328. Those just interested in learning the sport should keep an eye on the Laramie Recreation Center schedule for the next Pickleball 101 clinic. Day also works with more advanced players who are looking to improve their ability.
“It’s just a fun game,” Day said. “There’s the physical aspect but it also a great mental game and provides an excellent social opportunity.”