New McRae Park pickleball courts fun for locals, visitors

Courtesy Photo Above, Rocky and Ginny Roland enjoy a game of pickleball on the new courts at McRae Park.

ALPENA — Alpena has a fabulous new sports facility in the McRae Park complex.

More than a year of planning, fundraising, preparation and installation culminated in the first pickleball games being played at the Alpena Pickleball Center at McRae Park on June 15.

On Friday, all six courts were being used, according to avid pickleball player Rocky Roland. He said several families from out of town were using some of the courts, while the others were being used by regular pickleball group members.

“One group was a family of six from Metro Detroit who had found out about the courts through a website that we have it posted on, called ‘PlacesToPlay.com,’ and the other court was a family of four from Madison, Wisconsin, who had found out about the courts from our Facebook page,” Roland said. “I think that’s the kind of thing that’s cool for Alpena.”

He said 40 people were using the courts at the same time on Friday.

Courtesy Photo Above is an aerial view of McRae Park, courtesy of Marcus Amlotte and his drone.

“That’s pretty impressive,” Roland said.

Several pickleball groups exist in Alpena, but Rocky and his wife Ginny Roland play with the Association of Lifelong Learners group that meets from 9 to 11 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

While the Rolands belong to ALL, Rocky noted that the development of the new pickleball courts was a major collaboration starting with Ron Fusina. Roland said the City of Alpena and many community members and organizations donated to the project to make it a success.

The development of the pickleball courts at McRae Park started as an idea among a few avid Alpena pickleball players searching for a way to get dedicated courts for pickleball.

They started at the APlex, then had been marking off the tennis courts at Bay View Park, but having a new permanent place to play is now a happy reality.

“For the last several years, we’ve been working diligently to try to get some dedicated pickleball courts,” Roland said, adding, “Ron Fusina was the guy who did 90 percent of the work.”

Fusina, of Alpena, both an avid tennis player and pickleball player, was the de facto project leader. As a member of the Friends of the APlex Courts organization, he was familiar with both sports contacts and procedures for court development.

The Friends of the APlex Courts is a nonprofit organization, which makes it easier to facilitate receipt of grants from other organizations.

Fusina contacted Pro Surfaces, a Michigan company with decades of experience in constructing and resurfacing sports courts of all kinds. Pro Surfaces evaluated three options for court locations in Alpena and recommended McRae Park as clearly the best (and least expensive) option. Pro Surfaces provided a cost quote and estimated work schedule to repurpose McRae Park tennis courts into a dedicated pickleball facility.

Then the real work began. First came coordinating with Alpena city officials in multiple departments to get authorization and approval to convert the McRae Park tennis courts to pickleball courts.

Once the project concept was approved by the city, the equally difficult task of raising the necessary funding started.

Fusina wrote grant requests to multiple organizations, and several contributed significantly, including the Besser Foundation, the Park Family Foundation, the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan, and the First Federal of Northern Michigan Legacy Foundation. The City of Alpena also contributed significantly to the funding of the project. Impressively, more than $10,000 of the money raised came from donations by individual pickleball players and supporters. It was truly a community-wide project.

“We were able to get the support, and that’s the nice thing about Alpena,” Roland said. “How these local foundations support the local people ­– it’s crazy good.”

The Rolands moved here about eight years ago.

“That’s one of the things we love about Alpena. I think it’s the most giving town we’ve ever been in,” he added.

As with many construction projects in Northeast Michigan, the actual installation process had to wait through winter until late spring, with a target completion date of mid-June 2022. Everything proceeded on schedule, with some auxiliary work installing wind netting and permanent pickleball nets accomplished by local pickleball volunteers. It was difficult for the local pickleballers to contain their enthusiasm in anticipation of playing on the new courts as the surface installation “cured” prior to becoming playable. The big day was June 15, when about 20 players were out to inaugurate the six new courts.

“Pickleball is really a fast-growing, very popular sport all over the U.S. and the world,” Roland added. “And, I myself look for places to play whenever I travel.”

Pickleball is a sport that is often described as a combination of tennis, ping-pong, and badminton that is played on a court about one-fourth the size of a tennis court (same dimensions as a badminton court) with a net that is 34 inches high at the center.

Usually, four pickleball courts can be marked out over the top of one tennis court, but these hybrid courts often cause confusion to both pickleball players and tennis players because of the excess number of markings.

Two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated polymer ball over a net. The ball is much like a Wiffle ball, with 26-40 round holes. A non-volley zone (or kitchen) prevents volleys (hitting the ball before it bounces) close to the net, and the serving team cannot volley the return of serve. These unique rules favor players with less mobility and allow senior players to compete successfully with younger competitors.

In Alpena, the pickleball players usually play doubles. Doubles involve longer rallies, lower physical demands and more opportunities for court banter.

USA Pickleball notes that pickleball is fun, social and friendly. Pickleball rules are simple, and the game is easy for beginners to learn, but can develop into a quick, fast-paced, competitive game for experienced players. Pickleball is often reported as the fastest growing sport in the U.S.

These six courts are now open for play to all pickleballers. There is no reservation system. The recurring group that plays on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, weather permitting, welcomes drop-ins and new players.

Pickleball is truly a sport for people of all ages.

“We have two ladies playing with us right now, and one’s 80 and one’s 82,” said Roland, 74.

And it’s so easy to learn, youngsters can play, too. Roland said future plans include partnering with the Boys and Girls Club to offer supervised playing time and lessons, which will be part of a Kiwanis Club project next summer.

This facility is a great asset to Alpena and the surrounding area, Roland said.

“It’s going to be a really nice thing for Alpena,” Roland concluded.

News Lifestyles Editor Darby Hinkley contributed to this report. Reach her at 989-358-5691 or dhinkley@thealpenanews.com.


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