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Spicing up gym class with pickleball

Grand Rapids — What better way to get students active than with a dink, a falafel and a volley llama?

Even the lingo in pickleball – “stay out of the kitchen!” is one rule – is as lighthearted and fun as a sweet pickle. Enthusiasts, known as picklers, say its accessibility and easy-to-learn nature make it perfect for kindergarten through 12th grade physical education classes.

Grand Rapids Public Schools physical education teachers recently met Grand Rapids Pickleball Club members on the tennis-turned-pickleball courts at Union High School for a morning of learning the rules of the game, playing matches and thinking about how to integrate it into their curriculums.

“What we are looking at is giving students another option that’s a lifetime sport,” said Jolinda Lucas, physical education teacher at University Preparatory Academy, a grade 6-12 school.

‘This sport is a sport that anyone can play.’

– Lori Mann, Grand Rapids Pickleball Club board member

Pickleball, like a less serious younger sibling in the racquet sport family, is an indoor-outdoor sport that requires a ball, paddles and net. It has been described as a mashup of tennis, badminton and ping-pong and has exploded in popularity in recent years.

Grand Rapids Public Schools physical education teachers play pickleball with Luther Verkaik, a third-grader in Grand Rapids Public Schools

Lori Mann, a Grand Rapids Pickleball Club board member, said membership has skyrocketed to more than 1,000 as the sport has gained popularity nationwide. 

“This sport is a sport that anyone can play. Kids can play with their parents. They can play with their grandparents. It can be a very competitive game, but it can also be just a fun, non-competitive game,” she said.

Luther Verkaik, a third-grader at Grand Rapids Montessori School, helped demonstrate the game to the teachers. He likes to play with his dad, Scott Verkaik.

“It’s super accessible,” added Scott Verkaik. “The thought of me going out and chasing a tennis ball with him is nauseating… but with this, the very first time we played we had a rally. The entry point is really low and accessible, but there are miles and miles of strategy and ways to improve… We’d love more kids to start playing.”

Blue skies made it a great day for GRPS teachers to learn pickleball from Grand Rapids Pickleball Club members
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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