Hillsdale tennis courts are in use once again as pick­leball comes to the college for the first time. | Facebook

Balls are bouncing again at the old tennis courts by Academy Lane. But instead of tennis rackets, players are sporting Wiffle balls and wooden ping-pong paddles.
The game is called pick­leball. It has 2.8 million players nationwide, according to the United States of America Pick­leball Asso­ci­ation (USAPA), and was labeled the “fastest growing sport” in the United States in 2015 by the Sports & Fitness Industry Asso­ci­ation. In central Florida, the game has become so popular that fans have labeled it the “pick­leball capital of the world.” 
A pick­leball court is a third the size of a tennis court with a 34-inch net, 2 inches shorter than a tennis net. Paddles are gen­erally made of wood, graphite, or some com­posite material, and the per­fo­rated plastic balls are made of a thicker plastic than a regular Wiffle ball. The rules are also similar to tennis.
Drew Wathey, director of media rela­tions for USAPA, said the game is most popular among states with large retirement pop­u­la­tions, like Cal­i­fornia, Florida, Arizona, Texas, and Georgia.  He added that Michigan is also a “hotbed” for the sport, as he noticed while vis­iting Detroit for a pick­leball junior olympics.
“When I was up there last year it seemed like there was a lot of new growth as far as trans­forming tennis courts into pick­leball courts, or new pick­leball courts being built,” he said.
Ken Cole, sec­retary trea­surer for the Hillsdale College Inde­pen­dence Foun­dation, and his wife Brenda, ini­tiated the $8,000 ren­o­vation process for the college’s two new pick­leball courts, which were com­pleted by the end of June. He and his wife per­sonally funded 15 percent of the project, while the Exchange Club, a local service club that focuses on pre­venting child abuse and funds various orga­ni­za­tions in the Hillsdale area, of which Cole is a member, funded the other 85 percent. The club holds a pick­leball clinic every Monday night at 6 p.m., open to all ages, and the Roche Sports Complex also pro­vides wooden paddles and balls that are available for stu­dents or com­munity members to use with their student IDs or mem­bership cards. 
According to the USAPA website, the game was founded in the summer of 1965 when Joel Pritchard, a Wash­ington state con­gressman, along with busi­nessman Bill Bell, and another friend, Barney McCallum, were looking for bad­minton equipment at Pritchard’s home and decided to improvise with ping-pong paddles and a Wiffle ball. 
Pick­leball fans dis­agree over where the sport got its name. According to the USAPA website, McCallum said it was named after the Pritchards’ cocker spaniel, “Pickles,” which is the widely-cir­cu­lated account, but Pritchard’s wife, Joan, said she started calling it pick­leball because the com­bi­nation of sports in the game reminded her of how the “pickle boat” in crew always takes the leftover players from the other boats.
Cole and his wife first encoun­tered the game while spending time at a retirement resort in Okee­chobee, Florida. He said that over the course of eight years, the resort’s tennis courts were even­tually all con­verted to pick­leball courts.
Cole said he expects the game will become more popular, and wants to expose pick­leball more to the community. 
“It’s just a lot of fun,” Cole said. “It’s just easier than playing on a tennis court.”
The college may even­tually replace the pick­leball courts with a turf building, or some other enter­prise, according to Chief Admin­is­trative Officer Rich Péwé. Although Péwé approved the pick­leball courts, he said the college built the newer tennis courts next to the Biermann Ath­letic Center with the intention of building some­thing in place of the older courts.
Mike Ven­turini, former Exchange Club pres­ident and current member, said the new courts are the first outdoor pick­leball courts in Hillsdale County, and he said he thinks the county will problem form a pick­leball league in the next year or so.
“You can play for half hour and work up a good sweat whether you know what you’re doing or not,” he said. 
Ven­turini said for the time being he wants to get more of the com­munity and college stu­dents involved.
“I’ve been to the clinics twice, and it’s just plain fun.”