Prescott pickleballers aim to build more courts

From July 7 to July 9, pickleball players ages 50 and older competed in the Senior Northern Arizona Pickleball Slam at the Prescott Valley Event Center. The sport of pickleball has become so popular in the Prescott area that new outdoor public courts are being proposed to be built near Pioneer Park.

Salina Sialega/Courtesy photo

From July 7 to July 9, pickleball players ages 50 and older competed in the Senior Northern Arizona Pickleball Slam at the Prescott Valley Event Center. The sport of pickleball has become so popular in the Prescott area that new outdoor public courts are being proposed to be built near Pioneer Park.

What is pickleball? And why is it so popular?

Not everyone has heard of the game of pickleball, although it’s been around since 1965. The game, however, has grown tremendously in recent years, especially among the senior population.

Prescott Pickleball Association (PPA) members are telling everyone they meet how much fun the game is, what great exercise it is and how Prescott needs more public courts. PPA president Peg Travers has played the game for three years, is a United States American Pickleball Association (USAPA) Ambassador and is self-ranked at 3.0. The game has a list of criteria for player rankings, which places players in some tournaments. Travers enjoys the social aspect of the games and loves the thrill of tournaments.

“I love ‘Pickle People,’ they are such a kind and giving bunch,” Travers said. Other PPA officers are vice president Rita Kavanaugh and treasurer Lynn Coulter.

An easier game to play than tennis but equally challenging and satisfying, players say, pickleball is played on a smaller tennis court. It uses ping-pong-type paddles and a heavy-plastic wiffle ball. It’s played both indoors and outdoors, and is ideal for tournaments. Play can be singles, doubles and mixed doubles.

Pickleball has been included in the Prescott Senior Olympics for three years. However, Recreation Services has had budget cuts and must scale back the number of sports offered at this year’s Senior Games. Only three sports will be involved in Prescott’s events in August, including golf, softball and volleyball.

USAPA has eight ambassadors to the Prescott area, who provide training for children, veterans and people of all ages. As Bob Atherton, USAPA Northern Arizona District Ambassador, says, “Pickleball people are always laughing and having fun. Pickleball people are great volunteers and enjoy helping others to learn the sport.” The PPA Construction Committee is working with Joe Baynes, director of the City’s Recreation Services, on proposed courts at Pioneer Park on Prescott’s north side.

PRESCOTT — “Pickle People” are vocal in the Prescott area and now have formed their own association to put their words into action. Who are they? They are people who are passionate about the game of pickleball and want to see more opportunities for the game here. And people are listening, specifically officials with the City of Prescott and the Town of Prescott Valley.

Peg Travers, president of the newly formed Prescott Pickleball Association (PPA), said about a thousand pickleball players live in the Prescott area, and eight ambassadors of the national organization started a local association to answer a call for more facilities here.

“Prescott and Prescott Valley have heard the cry and are responding with efforts to expand our current pickleball courts,” Travers said. “Many private courts exist at HOAs [homeowners’ associations] and the number of players has topped 1,000 in Prescott alone.”

The association’s first goals are to build more public pickleball courts in the area, introduce the game to more people and hold statewide and regional tournaments. The public currently can play pickleball only in Prescott, at the YMCA and Willow Hills Baptist Church, and courts also are set up at a few residential areas in the Prescott area for private use.

Travers says pickleball is for all ages and is a sport that is booming in Arizona and across the country.

“With 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring each day, these healthy 60-plus-year-olds are moving to Arizona in record numbers,” Travers added. “There are pickleball facilities all over the Valley area [Phoenix] and they are building more courts every month.”

But those in the Prescott area who play the game are frustrated with the lack of facilities. The association already has raised about $30,000 and will need $120,000 more to complete a project they currently are working on with Director Joe Baynes at the City of Prescott Recreation Services. Travers and association members say the sport will not only benefit local players but also will bring possibly hundreds of players for tournaments that the association will sponsor.

The City Council has already agreed to designate land at Pioneer Park off of Willow Creek Road for pickleball courts, but money will have to come from the association since the City has no budget for the costs. Courts are expensive to build, and the association first is looking to hire an architect for the project.

Council Member Billie Orr plays pickleball and supports the City’s involvement in getting public courts.

“It’s a great amenity for Prescott, and will bring tournaments to the city,” Orr said. “People will come from out of town and they will stay in hotels and eat at restaurants, and that brings a positive economic boost.”

Orr has played for two years and said she’s played against players of all ages, from 8 years old to 84. She added that pickleball “promotes good sportsmanship and adds to the community’s overall quality of life.”

In Prescott Valley, players 50 and older competed in the Senior Northern Arizona Pickleball Slam July 7-9 at the Prescott Valley Event Center. Local pickleball ambassadors conducted the tournament and the Town supported the event by providing the use of the center at no charge.

About 100 members already belong to the new association and all local players can join at no cost. Current members are donating either money or their time to get new pickleball courts built. A fundraiser tournament will be held from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. this Saturday, July 23, at Willow Hills Baptist Church in Prescott. The tourney is open to all recreational players. It will feature a round-robin style with a guaranteed five rounds in men’s, women’s and mixed doubles. Prizes will be awarded to winners. Money generated from the tournament will go toward the Arizona Community Foundation to build eight pickleball courts. Contact organizer Bob Atherton at 928-499-2498 for more details, or email him at bobca39@gmail.com.

Since there are no public courts in Prescott, this public/private partnership effort is much needed, association members say. Travers is coordinating this project with hopeful and eager volunteers to raise the money and build the courts.

Travers said by mid-2017, the PPA hopes to raise enough money to build eight pickleball courts at Pioneer Park, a public park with fields and facilities for softball, soccer, baseball, and hockey, in north Prescott.