Mt. Pleasant Pickleball Club picks up in popularity

It’s 9 a.m. on Friday morning. There’s a very distinct sound that can be heard within Island Park’s 50 acres near downtown Mount Pleasant. While, yes, there are some faint chirps of children laughing at the playground and splash pad – plus pavement-pounding footsteps of joggers running throughout the property – this particular sound is quite unique. 

Imagine the “pong” of a ping pong ball being hit by a paddle, combined with the sound of a tee-ball bat hitting a wiffleball. Now add in the accent of a tennis ball bouncing off a rubber-surfaced ground. And finally, mix in a bunch of adults cheering each other on.

That’s the sound of the Mt. Pleasant Pickleball Club at play – with over 25 pickleball players who have shown up to Island Park’s outdoor pickleball courts for exercise, comradery, and of course, some fun. In fact, they show up six days a week. 

Al Montoye (red) is co-founder of the Mt. Pleasant Pickleball Club.Meet the Mt. Pleasant Pickleball Club

As an avid former tennis player with a passion for exercise and kinesiology that runs in his bloodlines, Mt. Pleasant Pickleball Club co-founder, Al Montoye, began playing pickleball indoors with people he met at Morey Courts. 

“I have played racquetball and tennis for most of my adult life, and was very interested in learning a new racket game,” shares Al. “I found pickleball to be a game that can be fun to play very early in the learning process.

“As with all sports there are many skill levels. But even beginners have good games,” he says.

Montoye discovered that pickleball doesn’t demand the athleticism and strength requirement that tennis does. Plus, as it’s played on a court half the size of a tennis court, it’s easier for people with compromised mobility to move around – such as those who have knee or hip replacements.

“After a few of us started to play indoors, we realized the need for outdoor play,” says Montoye. Al then contacted the City and worked towards a collaborative effort which led to a solution: the club raised half of the funds, and the City the other half, to paint pickleball court lines on two of the four existing tennis courts at Island Park. Within a year, that process was repeated, and the remaining two tennis courts were painted. 

At that time, not only did the sport of pickleball grow substantially throughout the nation, but its popularity grew quickly locally as well. After a couple years’ success at Island Park, a budget was planned to redo the park’s pickleball facilities, into the six-court outdoor pickleball complex you see here today. 

The Mt. Pleasant Pickleball Club consists of over 200 members that receive play updates via the free app, TeamReach. Many of their scheduled court times encourage drop-in play, where some players attend once a week, and others several days a week. Players range both in skill level and age (from 20-year-olds to players in their 80s).

Transitioning from a tennis and racquetball-playing background to playing pickleball is natural for many players. However, the sport also welcomes those new to the game, like Mt. Pleasant Pickleball Club member, Carolyn Wrisley.

Outside of taking one tennis class in college, retired CMU employee Carolyn Wrisley did not have a background in racket sports. Then, her friends introduced her to pickleball. She started playing indoors a few years ago at Morey Courts, and now is enjoying exploring the sport outdoors.

“It’s an adjustment playing inside compared to outside,” she shares. “Especially with the wind and sun.”

Mt. Pleasant Pickleball Club member, Tanja Dunn, also did not have a background in tennis before joining the group; however she did have some experience playing badminton. When she was walking the indoor track at Morey Courts several years ago, she saw some people playing pickleball on the courts and started asking questions about the sport.

“I got hooked! It’s a fun game and it’s easier on your joints than tennis is,” Dunn says.

That’s definitely one of the major perks of pickleball. That, and being able to spend a relatively short time learning the basics of the game, and you’re already prepared to play. 

Wrisley (left) and Dunn (right) playing doubles at Island Park.How to Play

Pickleball can be played both indoors and outdoors, and as singles or doubles – with doubles being more common. The courts are half the size of a traditional tennis court.

Pickleball balls are made of a hard plastic and have holes in them – many people recognize it as a wiffle ball. The racket is a solid paddle made of composite material, and can be found at sporting goods stores locally, or online. (Montoye plays with Michigan-made paddles from Paddletek).

Games are normally played to 11 points, and points can only be scored by the serving team. All players have the opportunity to serve, and rotate through teammates and opponents after each individual game.

“It’s a game of finesse,” says Montoye. 

Between navigating no-volley zones, discovering dinking (or drop shots), and getting used to the differences in acceleration and momentum of the equipment and balls compared to other racket sports, there is a variety of skill levels amongst players. Check out official rules from the USA Pickleball Association here

Pickleball is played with a racket and a wiffle-style ball.

Pickleball is played with a racket and a wiffle-style ball.How to Get Involved

Download the TeamReach app and enter Group Code 48858 to see the Mt. Pleasant Pickleball Club’s most up-to-date schedule. Play is currently Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 9 a.m.; Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 5:30 p.m.; and Sundays at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. at Island Park. They plan to carry this schedule throughout the summer and fall until the weather is no longer conducive to play. 

Once the colder temperatures set in, the Club plans to rent indoor courts at Youth for Christ (located in the former Coca-Cola plant off High Street), and host players five times a week throughout the winter.

“That’s worked out very well – they’ve been very accommodating for us,” says Montoye of their partnership with Youth for Christ. 

Plus, creating beginner programs is in the works for those who are interested in trying the game for the first time. Information about free instruction via the Club will be posted to the TeamReach app as the details develop.

Until then, community members are encouraged to come learn from members at any drop-in play time. 

“We welcome everyone!” reassures Montoye.

Read more articles by Courtney Jerome.

With 15 years of professional media experience, Courtney Jerome has found a passion for storytelling and showcasing our region in a positive light. She's written stories for television broadcasts, numerous magazines, and digital publications. In addition, she owns a boutique creative marketing agency that focuses on social media, photo, and video storytelling for small businesses across Michigan and the county. Contact Courtney via courtney@courtneyjeromemedia.com.