It was volleyball that first sparked a friendship between Christy Howden, 50, and Leslie White, 56, back in 2014 (their daughters played on the same club team), but pickleball is what cemented their business concept. The dynamic duo, which started playing together a few years after meeting, joined forces to create Wolverine Pickleball, a club and indoor facility based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with 150 members and counting.
The two are hard at work spreading the love of the game. White has collaborated with the city of Detroit to introduce the sport at new community recreation centers through daytime clinics and after-school sessions for kids. Recently, at her request, the paddle manufacturer Selkirk Sport, which also sponsors White, sent 40 free paddles for use at the centers.
And in true pickleball-friendly form, they’re now bonding with players of other sports as well. Wolverine Pickleball (inspired by the state’s nickname, the Wolverine State), has since become a hot spot for various college athletes: UM’s women’s tennis, basketball, and field hockey teams have all held events there, and White says they’ve even taught a few football players the game.
More than 200 players participated in the round-robin tournament at the Detroit pistons training facility.
This year, they held a round robin tournament at the Detroit Pistons training facility, using tape to make over the basketball court into glossy pickleball courts, on which over 200 players hit their hearts out. “I had heard it was a popular sport and Googled it, hoping to find someone to partner with and expand our fan base for the Pistons’ culture,” says Brandon Goebel, a senior account executive for the Pistons. “It was clear that Wolverine Pickleball was the club to work with.” And the relationship keeps growing.
These days, the two founders have their eyes on expanding, which will allow them to admit the more than 200 people on the club’s wait list. (While anyone can currently play there, members have early access to events and court reservations.) They plan to move their current operation into a brand-new 40,000-square-foot facility with a lounge, bar, kitchen, locker rooms, and 12 indoor/outdoor courts (thanks to garage doors that will slide open in good weather).
“We want to be the biggest pickleball club in the Midwest,” says White, who is the Central Michigan District Ambassador, overseeing 15 counties and 10 fellow ambassadors. They also plan to offer outdoor entertainment, including bocce, cornhole, a beer garden, and sand volleyball courts. “We think this is where people are going to want to be,” says Howden. Adds White, “We always knew we wanted to turn our passion for pickleball into a business. Now we really have.”