Physical education teachers from Grand Rapids Public Schools were introduced to one of the nation’s fastest-growing games as part of a professional development day at Union High School when members of the Grand Rapids Pickleball Club came out to teach the teachers the intricacies of a sport they have come to love.

Lori Mann is a 1977 graduate of Union High School and a former varsity athlete. For her to be back at her alma mater, leading pickleball instruction for GRPS teachers, meant she had a smile on her face from start to finish.

“We’re here volunteering our time,” she said. “But we’re happy to do it. We love pickleball, and we can’t wait to show you these teachers why we love it.”

After a quick explanation about some of the pickleball basics, Mann and her fellow GRPC volunteers got the teachers right into some spirited play. On four temporary courts created on Union’s existing tennis courts, teachers from across the district were soon serving, volleying, hitting crosscourt kitchen shots and erupting with laughter, shouts of “yes” and even a little friendly trash talking.

For Kurt Johnson, GRPS Executive Director of Athletics & Dual Enrollment, the sights and sounds of the pickleball workshop were exactly what he had hoped for when the session was added to the professional development schedule.

“Most of our scholars at GRPS are introduced to organized sports through physical education classes,” he said. “We always welcome more opportunities to introduce new sports to our scholars, especially sports like pickleball that are easy entry, can be played almost anywhere and look to be a lot of fun.”

Kellie Kieren, a physical education teacher at North Park Montessori, agreed.

“I prefer non-traditional sports for my students,” she said. “We do soccer and volleyball and basketball of course. But we also do spikeball and a dance unit. So far pickleball seems to be sort of in-between the traditional and non-traditional sports. I can easily see this being added to what we offer at North Park. It’s super fun.”

Jolinda Lucas, who worked with GRPC to organize the event, is a physical education teacher at Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy and athletic director for U Prep, Grand Rapids Public Museum Middle School and Grand Rapids Montessori Academy.

She said she loves that pickleball can be played in a city park or even an empty parking lot.

“And,” she added, “by introducing our GRPS scholars to pickleball, we are introducing them to a great activity that could potentially be a lifetime sport for them.”

Bill Weibel, a physical education teacher at CA Frost Environmental Science Academy Elementary and Sibley Elementary has played some pickleball with his family and was excited to consider what it might look like to bring the sport to his classes.

“It’s not that hard to pick up, and it’s so much fun,” he said with a smile.

For a time, he was playing alongside Grand Rapids Montessori student Luther Verkaik, who also is hopeful that his school might someday soon include pickleball as an option.

Luther was there with his father Scott Verkaik, a Grand Rapids firefighter, a GRPC member and an accomplished local player. Though heading into third grade, Luther already has become a proficient player, and his presence at the workshop was intended to show the gathered teachers how even the youngest players can soon become quite skilled.

Luther said he was enjoying being a bit of a teacher for the district’s teachers.

And were pickleball ever to come to his school, well, he said with a gigantic grin: “I would love my school even more than I already do.”