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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Park Politics: Wrightsville Beach tennis lobby unveils leverage

The surging paddle sport, and plans to expand it at Wrightsville Beach, have sparked conflict with the tennis players. (Port City Daily/Alexandria Sands Williams)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — Gathered at a public meeting to discuss an ongoing grant application, power players in both the tennis and pickleball communities worked to sway opinion and exert influence over the future of Wrightsville Beach Park. 

The town’s parks and recreation staff has been directed by the board of aldermen to pursue a Parks and Recreation Trust Fund Grant, administered by the state. It would fund $400,000 worth of expansion to the pickleball facilities at the park — specifically, five dedicated pickleball courts, as well as lighting for all courts. 

The increasing player base of pickleball is a phenomenon well-known to parks and rec departments nationwide. According to Katie Ryan, program supervisor for Wrightsville Beach Parks and Rec, the surge makes this grant application a strong one. Ryan hosted a Wednesday night meeting in town hall — another step in the application process — where the tennis players showed out in force, in hopes of improving their end of the deal. 

At issue is an additional plan to tide over the growing pickleball community until the time their five new courts are potentially completed (should the grant be awarded). When the tennis courts are resurfaced in the near future, the town will convert one of the four courts into pickleball space — removing one tennis court in favor of four pickleball courts. 

If the grant money is secured, and the new pickleball courts get built, that re-striped court would be reverted back to a tennis court. 

For the five permanent pickleball courts and the rest of the grant project, expected costs are $800,000. The grant would cover half, and the town expects to raise private funding to cover parts of the expenses. 

Lisa Weeks, a former board of aldermen member, attended the meeting as a delegate of the local tennis community. She deplored the fact that Wrightsville Beach’s tennis courts are striped with pickleball lines (depending on the day, there are currently set times for pickleball and tennis play at the existing courts). 

READ MORE: Pickleball lobby has a plan for Wrightsville Beach Park

“I support the project, but the tennis people that I represent feel like there’s an inequity,” Weeks said. “[The pickleballers are] getting five new courts plus the re-striping of the fourth tennis court, and there’s still pickleball lines on the three other courts.”

Weeks then dropped her leverage and noted she and a friend were prepared to activate their Rolodex to help raise $200,000 in private funding for the project: “But unless those three tennis courts are purely tennis, I think it would be difficult to do that,” she said. 

Next, pickleballers who spoke noted there are more than 80 tennis courts in the county but only six dedicated pickleball courts. Holly Manning, the new president of Cape Fear Pickleball Club, said the group boasts 497 members and estimates the total player base in the area at around 1,500 pickleballers. 

“If they have so few courts in the county, they’ll all be coming to these courts, and I just have a feeling it’s going to take over the tennis,” said one Wrightsville Beach local in the tennis contingent. “I don’t think Wrightsville Beach has to provide for the whole county.”

(Port City Daily/Alexandria Sands Williams)

Tennis players argued the courts were just shy of being suitable for USTA league play, and their group was in line for an upgrade. Some said the presence of pickleball lines on tennis courts made judging calls on the back line difficult. Some pickleballers said they never see tennis players out there.

There were a few moments of finger-pointing and raised voices after one of the chief pickleballers challenged Weeks; the pickleballer said Weeks had already spoken at length and said others should have their chance to comment. The pickleballer then asked Weeks to list exact instances when tennis players were unable to find space to play at the park due to the mass of pickleballers — a problem that Weeks and others claimed was pervasive. 

“Send out a newsletter to your membership and let them know to look for me or Jim on the court,” the pickleballer said, leading to a moment of high tension. 

The purpose of the meeting was to bolster the town’s grant application to the state. Parks and rec supervisor Ryan intended on collecting as many signs of support for the project as possible. Pursuing the new pickleball courts and the temporary re-striping of an existing tennis court are directives from the board of aldermen, Ryan said. 

Now, additional negotiations will likely be needed. And by the time the grant application is due in May, “I think we’ll be able to come to a compromise,” Ryan said.

Wrightsville Beach Park (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands Williams)

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