For quite a while, I have been advocating a variety of things to improve the parks and recreation scene in Henderson County. I am now asking you to do yourself and your kids a favor by signing an important petition — one that is already getting a lot of attention.

I’ve started a group called Blue Ridge Pickleball to represent the public pickleball community in Henderson County. Pickleball has exploded in popularity, especially among active retirees, in just the past few years.

The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) reports that the sport has more than 8 million players and is booming. Its recent U.S. Open, in Naples, Fla., had 2,000 players. Matches have been on the CBS Sports network and on the “Pickleball Channel” online.

In Henderson County, the Xcel SportsPlex had a tournament with more than a dozen courts. A tournament at the Lelia Patterson Center was indoor, air-conditioned, and had nearly 100 players in four days. In the region, dedicated pickleball courts are being built at country clubs and wealthy residences.

But the only truly public facility that offers pickleball is the Athletics and Activity Center on South Grove Street in Hendersonville. We are blessed to have 45 percent of the hours there, however, there are no sessions in the late afternoons for the working class, and the gym is closed on Sundays (the turf field and other parks are not). Also, there’s no air conditioning, and it’s hot as Hades sometimes. We need “AC in the AAC.”

Pickleball is so big that complexes are being built nationwide. What our petition calls for is a replica of the facility in Griffin, Ga., to be built in Henderson County. I toured the facility personally and was astonished at how well planned it was.

In a compact four acres, there are 18 courts, the same surface as tennis’ U.S. Open, four under a shed (great idea), open space for vendors, a beautiful clubhouse, and the bathrooms even have changing booths.

A Griffin economic impact study reported about a $1.2 million annual economic impact for the $1.55 million facility. In Spalding County, in which Griffin is located, a county commissioner who pushed for this said it’s already turning away events.

Now imagine this at the Meritor Park site in Fletcher. It’s very easy: Four acres of land can be built on there, a perfect fit. If we could’ve built a softball complex there, even on 20 acres (and we can’t as 89 of the 93 acres are in a floodplain), there is no doubt Henderson County commissioners would have allocated money to make it happen.

Henderson County should work with Fletcher on the 2019 PARTF grant, an annual state matching grant for recreation. PARTF has built other pickleball courts in this state.

Or why not look at Blue Ridge Mall? There’s a ton of space in front of where JC Penney used to be. (This was suggested by USAPA Ambassador Larry Appleby.) I’d say then why not work a deal and replace the JC Penney building with a small, affordable arena?

It would be a perfect tie-in. We already have the post office in the mall. Dunham Sports already sells pickleball equipment. It would be a giant draw for the mall and that part of town.

More than 270 people have already signed the petition nationwide. There have been almost 5,000 views of the video tour of the facility on Facebook. This complex would bring in sports tourism dollars and recruit businesses here.

We could have Apple Festival and Senior Games tournaments. Church leagues. Home/charter school and high school programs. Just for starters. Let’s get a single court at East Flat Rock Park, Etowah Park and Jackson Park as well.

We have a 30 percent obesity rate. It’s time to fight back. Please go to www.BlueRidgePickleball.com, sign the petition, and support the hottest growing sport in America!

 

Dennis Justice lives in Fletcher. Reach him at info@blueridgepickleball.com.