ASHEVILLE – Pickle-ballers and tennis players are now locked in a loveless match point over the city’s public athletic courts. Both groups ― in quickly-growing sports ― are hotly debating how to share Parks and Recreation facilities, with no solution enough to appease either group.
But the city has declared a final decision will come as soon as this week, Nov. 15 at the latest.
Parks and Recreation spokesperson Christo Bubenik said the department has been meeting with both user groups to find a compromise to satisfy everyone. Among the offers is an option that would convert Murphy-Oakley park solely into pickleball courts.
Bubenik said many local tennis players and “picklers” have contacted the department regarding their sport as more players mass by the hundreds.
Currently, there are 11 public outdoor tennis courts in Asheville. Six of these are dual-lined for pickleball, resulting in 12 public outdoor pickleball courts, Bubenik said. None of the pickleball courts have permanent nets, and players must bring their own.
A tennis-badminton-ping pong hybrid played with paddles and a hard, plastic whiffle-like ball, a single tennis court can accommodate two pickleball games at once, usually with four players each.
There are also six indoor pickleball courts at Parks and Recreation-operated community centers, three each at Linwood Crump Shiloh and Stephens-Lee, for a total of 18 public pickleball courts. While outdoor courts are free, indoor court usage costs $3 per player per day.
Parks and Recreation staff have met twice with both the Asheville Tennis Association and local pickleball organizing committee to discuss the way forward.
Bubenik said while the ideal long-term solution is additional dedicated courts for both sports, current resources don’t allow for it. In addition to shared use of courts, he noted that a number of free public tennis courts have been replaced by other amenities at parks across the city over the past 25 years.
Election candidate Q&As:
Two “most realistic” short-term solutions have been presented by Parks and Recreation. Bubenik said the department’s final short-term decision will be made in November. Tennis and pickleball groups anticipate it at a Nov. 9 meeting.
The solutions, as presented by Parks and Rec, are:
Dual-line all Asheville Parks and Recreation public courts for both sports and develop an alternating schedule with dedicated times for each sport, resulting in 11 tennis and 22 pickleball courts.
Convert courts at Murphy-Oakley Park to eight dedicated pickleball courts with permanent pickleball nets and convert all remaining public courts to be lined for tennis only, resulting in eight dedicated tennis courts across four parks and eight dedicated pickleball courts at a central location. This would also include installation of permanent pickleball nets, so there would be no need for players to bring their own.
Both user groups are opposed to Option 2, if for very different reasons.
“Our stance is, we very much don’t want to lose those tennis courts. We’ve lost too many tennis courts in the past,” said Jeff Joyce, member of the Asheville Tennis Association and former president of the nonprofit.
“We’re hoping to be able to compromise, and we really want to try to get a win-win out of this, and if the city decides to convert those three tennis courts into eight pickleball courts, we’re not going to have a win-win, it will be more like lose-lose, especially on the tennis side of it.”
He said not only are the courts the practice location for Reynolds Middle School, and where ATA runs much of its programming, dropping the city’s number of public courts from 11 to eight would be near impossible.
Picklers feel similarly cool on the option. The conversion of Oakley to pickleball courts would mean pickleball would drop from 12 outdoor non-dedicated courts to eight dedicated courts. In that conversion, pickleball would lose four dual-lined courts at Montford Park, two at Kenilworth Park and two at Malvern Hills Park.
Yira Pia Sanchez, USA Pickleball Association ambassador and an advocate among the pickleball community, said it was impossible to concentrate hundreds of players into just eight courts.
“We were asking for more courts, not less.”
Instead, Sanchez said the pickleball group offered a compromise of its own: one that would transform Oakley Park into dedicated pickleball courts, give up Montford, but keep Kenilworth and Malvern Hills dual-lined. Courts that remain dual-lined would have an alternating schedule.
“There has to be compromise, no doubt about it,” said pickleball player David Kelly. “It’s not going to make everybody or even anybody happy, entirely. You just can’t.”
Asheville Tennis Association’s proposed compromise looked much like Parks and Rec’s Option 1: Dual-line everything and have a “equitable structured play schedule.”
In all cases, any of the proposed options left some players holding their nose.
“If we’re grown ups, we can work together and make this work for the benefit of both,” Joyce said. He said the compromise was offered though many tennis players don’t like it.
He noted there have been definite times of contention on the courts between the two users.
“They’re two completely different sports,” he said, with different etiquette, needs and numbers. “It’s a tough situation.”
‘The community is growing’
The call for dedicated sports from pickleball is not a new one, but it’s accelerated over the last several months. Orange-clad players can be found at the back of every City Council meeting, council members find emails flooding their inbox from both user groups, plus disgruntled neighbors of residential courts are plagued by overfull public parks and the plastic whiffle-ball-like thwack they say lasts from dawn to dusk.
Pickleball has more than 2,000 active users registered on a popular pickleball scheduling site in Asheville.
Similarly, Joyce said tennis has thousands of players in the city.
According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s most recent State of the Industry report, pickleball has grown nationally by 39.3%, or 1.36 million additional players, since 2019. During that same time, tennis has seen a national increase of 27.9%, or 4.9 million additional players.
“Asheville’s trends seem to be in line with national increases with many community members discovering or rediscovering these sports during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bubenik said. “With all of its free-to-use public courts resurfaced over the past four years, APR maintains some of the best community courts in the area.”
Sanchez said pickleball is growing exponentially and players are getting younger, no longer a sport dominated solely by retirees.
“The community is growing really fast, especially at this time,” she said. “There’s a lot of people that come to Asheville because Asheville is a beautiful place, and then they bring their paddles.” She noted that dual-lining all courts still won’t address the issue of pickleball players having to bring their own nets.
Pickleballers themselves aren’t the only ones to notice the increase of players.
But for some, like Lani Blakeslee, a Montford resident who lives near the courts, its become almost a constant source of strife.
“The situation is just getting more and more untenable,” she said. Unlike tennis, more pickleball players can use a court at once. Usually, more than a dozen players are on the sidelines, waiting to rotate in.
This is a plus for some pickleballers, who like the fast pace and the communal nature of the sport, but for nearby residents it can become something of an inconvenience.
Blakeslee said the issues are wide ranging − from parking and increased traffic, to noise, crowds at once-quiet courts and activity most days from 6 a.m. to the park’s close at 10 p.m.
“I chose to live in an urban area, but when you now have this other thing that has come in and has completely changed the entire atmosphere of the neighborhood, singlehandedly. And its not intermittent. It’s basically all day, every day. I can’t escape it, I can’t move my house,” she said. “It’s really, really horrible.”
Sanchez acknowledged these issues in Montford, particularly those of noise and parking, and said that was one reason they were willing to give up courts there.
Kelly agreed that it was his understanding they would lose Montford Park either way. “That’s political reality,” he said.
Still, Sanchez said, the pickleball community is divided. Some players are unwilling to give any ground, and hope for more dedicated options soon.
Blakeslee said many neighbors agree with her and is willing to pitch a solution of her own − for Weaver Park’s tennis courts to be lined as it’s a less residential area, and for play to be moved there.
“I signed up for tennis, I signed up for basketball, I signed up for people picnicking, I signed up for all of that. I’ve been so fine with sharing space with a public park … but the thing is, I didn’t sign up for pickleball.”
What comes next?
Tennis and pickleball players were quick to express no lasting ill-will toward the other, or toward Parks and Recreation, just a desire to find a solution that works.
“I want you to know that the tennis association is not anti-pickleball. We want them to have their own facility, separate from tennis because, like I say, the two courts do not merge very well together,” Joyce said.
“Groups like (us), nonprofit groups, they’re givers and they’re takers. Asheville Tennis Association is made up of a bunch of givers, and we give back to this community. To think we’re going to have a really good tennis complex like Oakley Park taken away is hard to swallow.”
Bubenik said after a long-term decision would be made this month, it will be followed by a comprehensive communications strategy to bring awareness to the hundreds of racquet sport players who live in Asheville.
Kelly said any change was bound to happen fast, likely by next spring.
“I don’t know if it’s more tense,” he said of the relationship between pickleball and tennis. “I think the penny is still kind of dropping, but ultimately, this decision is not going to be made by the tennis community or the pickleball community. This will be made be a city decision. … They will make the decision, and we will have to make do.”
Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. News Tips? Email email@example.com or message on Twitter at @slhonosky.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Tennis, pickleball butt heads over court space; City offers solutions
– Article Written By @ from www.bing.com