Long-time Pickleball Player Gives Local Inside Scoop of the Game

Two people playing pickleball.
Pickleball can be a fun sport for all ages. Photo by Donna Marie Iadipaolo

Musician Tim Berla, a former computer scientist, is a lifelong Ann Arbor resident and now retired. With some of his extra time, he enjoys pickleball and maintains that the game is for almost all ages and is gaining popularity.

“I’ve been playing pickleball for ten years,” Berla said. “It’s a fun physical challenge and the social aspect is a big draw. People often play in groups and take turns with different partners — doubles are much more popular than singles, so many friendships develop. It’s common to play with 9 or 10 different partners during a couple of hours of play.”

One term people use to refer to pickleball players is “picklers.”

Some places offer “Round Robin” play, where picklers play with each other for at least one game. Wolverine Pickleball, 235 Metty Drive, opened in December 2023 and has 12 indoor pickleball courts and offers outdoor bocce (Italian bowling), corn hole, and volleyball. Meri Lou Murray Recreational Center, 2960 Washtenaw Ave., has eight indoor courts.

Two people playing pickleball.

“At many places, such as Meri Lou Murray Rec Center, there is drop-in pickleball so anyone can show up—at one of the scheduled times—and rotate into games and in that way meet new players,” Berla said. “There are lessons for beginners and others at Wolverine Pickleball. People also sometimes ask a group of their non-pickleball friends to join them at a local park. It is very common to show up at some courts and ask if you can mix in, though sometimes the difference in skill levels makes this not work out so well.”

With the nicer weather, many people prefer playing outdoors. When it rains, at night, or in order not to get too much sun, many people prefer indoor play.

“I first played at Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center,” Berla said. “The most common places I play now are Leslie Park and Burns Park when playing outside and Ann Arbor Tennis Academy and Wolverine Pickleball when I’m playing inside. I’ve also played at South Maple Park, Veterans Park, Scarlett Middle School, Ford Lake Park and Burns Park in Ypsi Township, Pickle Park in Belleville, Freedom Park in Canton and quite a few other places.”

Liberty Athletic Club also recently added two new outdoor pickleball courts near their outdoor pool.

Some people think that pickleball is only for older folks, but the game is gaining popularity with almost everyone.

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“I think Pickleball is for anyone who can move around enough to enjoy the sport. I haven’t tried playing with kids, but my hunch is that 6- or 8-year-olds would have a lot of fun,” Berla said. “One concern is adults who are out of shape and get very excited about playing. I think that is the source of many pickleball injuries: people who lead a sedentary lifestyle and then try to be super aggressive on the pickleball court without working their way up to that level of exercise.”

It is also not very expensive to begin.

“To start playing, you just need clothes you can move in comfortably, shoes that give support such as court shoes, paddles and balls,” Berla said. “I would recommend against starting with wood paddles, but it’s easy to find a set with a couple of paddles and some balls for under $100.”

The focus of pickleball is having fun and being social, versus being overly competitive or too hard on the body.

“Pickleball is a very fast-growing sport,” Berla said. “A big draw is that it is much easier to get started than tennis, for example. Within an hour, most players are hitting the ball over the net and have learned the rules, so they are ready to play games. Playing pickleball is within reach of almost everyone, and the health benefits of being active on a regular basis are massive. For many people, myself included, the draw of a competitive sport and playing with friends makes it motivating to exercise several times a week, unlike running which can be tedious.”

Another philosophy picklers reportedly like to follow and promote is: “Peace, love, and pickleball.”

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Donna Marie Iadipaolo is a writer, journalist, and State of Michigan certified teacher, since 1990. She has written for national publications like The Village Voice, Ear Magazine of New Music, Insurance & Technology, and TheStreet.
She is now writing locally for many publications, including Current Magazine, Ann Arbor Family, and the Ann Arbor Independent. Her undergraduate degree is from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she graduated with an honors bachelor’s degree and three teacher certificate majors: mathematics, social sciences, English. She also earned three graduate degrees in Master of Science, Master of Arts, and Education Specialist Degree.