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How Middletown Became The Pickleball Capital Of Ohio

Eighty-nine-year-old Stanley Volkens (in yellow) and his playing partner, 86-year-old Bill Schaefer, work up a sweat on one of 16 pickleball courts at Lefferson Park.
Eighty-nine-year-old Stanley Volkens (in yellow) and his playing partner, 86-year-old Bill Schaefer, work up a sweat on one of 16 pickleball courts at Lefferson Park.

The competition will be fierce beginning Thursday at the 12th Annual Middletown Senior Pickleball Tournament. Nearly 300 players from nine states will compete at Lefferson Park, the same place where throughout the week courts are filled for recreational play.

Pickleball, a mix of tennis, badminton and ping pong, seems to have a pull on people. Michell Cook, secretary of the Middletown Pickleball Association, resisted it initially at age 42 because she thought she was too young. Now she's been playing for about 10 years and loves it.

President Tony Brewer was pestered by his mother in Florida to play. "I went down and spent a week's vacation to humor her. I got up every morning at 6:00 a.m. to play pickleball with her and I got hooked."

From left: Association President Tony Brewer, VP Gayle Lear, Secretary Michell Cook and the man credited with bringing pickleball to Middletown Stanley Volkens.
Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
From left: Association President Tony Brewer, VP Gayle Lear, Secretary Michell Cook and the man credited with bringing pickleball to Middletown Stanley Volkens.

The man who convinced Middletown to convert vacant tennis courts into pickleball 14 years ago, 89-year-old Stanley Volkens, agrees it can be tough to get people on the court. "You almost have to drag them here. They resist the game partly because of the name. They think pickleball, 'That sounds like a game for little kids, doesn't it?' "

Middletown now has 16 pickleball courts, that's the most in the state and one more than Mentor, Ohio.

Gayle Lear explains it's easy to show up in the morning or evening and find people to play. "I like to win, but I'm not that competitive. It's more two hours of socializing and before you know it you've been exercising for those two hours."

The Association offers free lessons Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m. Here's some encouragement from Volkens, who turns 90 this year. "Eventually somebody gets a paddle in their hands and they get out there and hit a few. It's like a lightbulb turns on. 'Hey, I can play this game' and they tell all their friends, 'Hey come play this game' and that's how it grows."

On a Monday morning, 12 of the 16 courts were filled.
Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
On a Monday morning, 12 of the 16 courts were filled.

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