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Thursday, February 9, 2017

An Open Letter to Henderson County

The best way to predict the future is to create it...

While the search for new gym remains ongoing, I have decided to also turn my eyes to the future. This week I sent a letter to a group of Henderson County officials to plant some thoughts about future court development. I saw the opportunity to link several articles regarding resident health in the local newspaper to pickleball. The letter is shown below.

Recent Times-News articles have highlighted Henderson County’s focus on improving the health of its residents, specifically targeting obesity and general wellness. The articles featured Pardee Hospital and the Henderson County Health Department. Sandwiched between those articles was an article featuring the Parks and Recreation Department hosting an activity that goes a long way to improving resident health – pickleball.

Pardee Hospital was featured in “Pardee gets $450,000 grant to improve local health and wellness” that discussed ways to “engage residents in improving their health” “such as unhealthy weight, diabetes and heart disease”.  The Henderson County Health Department was featured in “Kids, young adults, seniors, swing into action” which discussed “Be Active Day,” a health promotion event’ created because “Obesity affects people of all ages, cultures and ethnic backgrounds.”

It is clear that the two primary county health organizations have identified a problem and are looking for answers. What is unclear is that a third county entity has one of those answers. Pickleball’s popularity grows in Henderson County” discussed the amazing growth of pickleball at the Henderson County Athletics and Activity Center.  But it did not mention the health benefits of pickleball play.

Pickleball is a physical activity without being strenuous. Plenty of articles have been written to support that claim, including Pickleball: The fastest growing sport in America from Health Beat which states “Playing pickleball can boost your mood and overall mental health, you burn calories, and fewer injuries occur due to the low impact nature of the game. Pickleball specifically works on your balance and agility while it also offers the same benefits of other regular exercise. These include reducing your risk of heart attack and chronic disease, toning your muscles and increasing your energy.”

There are plenty of personal testimonies about how pickleball has changed lives:
  • “I quit tennis after a knee replacement. Now I'm totally addicted and getting my second knee done in a few days. My motivator to finally do it: Pickleball.”
  • Lost 30 pounds in 11 months.”
  • “Puts pep in my step for sure!!! Stopped physical therapy because pickleball was helping me more after brain surgery!!!
  • “The most fun I've ever had getting exercise.”

That last quote is one of the most important. People will not exercise if it feels and looks like work. People will exercise if it is fun. The top reason people play pickleball is that it is fun. Social interaction is another major factor. The health benefits are hidden to players…until they start to feel better and their annual physicals return better numbers.

The element that is missing for the county to use pickleball to address its health improvement goal is the lack of public facilities. HCAAC is the only indoor place to play…and it is overfilled. The staff there has been very accommodating but everyone recognizes that it is highly demanded as a multi-use facility. There simply is no room for growth. Some private facilities exist in the county, but the restrictions and costs are not attractive to the pickleball community.

Pickleball can also be played on outdoor courts. The county currently has none in its system (in contrast to tennis – a sport with fewer players - that has 10 courts). Most are located in private gated communities like Cummings Cove, Carriage Park, and Kenmure and are unavailable for public play. Outdoor courts are a desired component for the pickleball community but indoor courts are more important in a high-precipitation four-season climate like Henderson County.

At January’s meeting of the Henderson County Recreation Board, Tim Hopkin, Parks and Recreation Director, discussed the need to begin a master plan for the county park system to meet the needs of the future. He provided one document that is particularly relevant to the point of this letter. It was headed “HCPRD VISION – Community Connectivity – Catalysts for FUN, WELL BEING, and SOCIAL INTERACTION”.

Pickleball fits that vision perfectly. While a master plan will likely include additional pickleball facilities, the timing required for a master plan to be developed and implemented is a major concern. Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America. Henderson County, even with the amazing growth at HCAAC, has barely tapped into the potential audience due to its limited court availability. Adding facilities in the near term would allow further growth and provide the health benefits the county is targeting. When it comes to peoples’ health, there is no time like the present.

Pickleball was invented over 50 years ago and has grown to the extent that there is now a national organization that oversees the sport – the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA). That organization provides much information to a team of volunteers to help grow the sport. As the local “ambassador” for the USAPA, I can assure you that Henderson County is not unique in having the problem of accommodating the rapid growth of the playing community. Rather than dilute the purpose of this message with thoughts of specific growth opportunities, I would encourage you to read the short addendum. I will leave you the most important message – the county has identified a goal of health improvement and it already has a solution in its system – pickleball. But pickleball as a solution is limited by facility capacity. There is a need for both short-term and long-term facility growth. There are opportunities for both but planning must begin now.

Thank you for your consideration.


There are several additional issues I would like to raise as supplemental information in order to not water down the primary message of the cover letter.  Those are discussed below. In addition, much more information is available about pickleball – its growth, health benefits, costs, etc. As the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) volunteer representative in Henderson County, I would be available to discuss any pickleball issue that needs clarified.

First, news reports indicate that two county schools will be rebuilt in the next several years. Both have gymnasiums that will be replaced. The Edneyville Elementary School gym has been designated for retention by community use. There has been no designation for the Hendersonville High School gym. Either or both would be welcome additions to the pickleball community.

Second, pickleball is known for its active tournament circuit. Even mid-size tournaments draw 200+ players, many from surrounding states. These tournaments provide major boosts to the local economies through motel, restaurant, and other retail sales. Local communities have begun to build pickleball complexes to take advantage of tournament opportunities as well as grow their local rosters. In our area, Rabun County of NE Georgia has a complex of 4 gyms, 2 of which are nearly exclusively pickleball. White County, also in NE Georgia, recently completed a 6-court outdoor complex to add to its 3-court gym.  Hiawasse, GA built a 14-court outdoor complex to add to its indoor facilities in a recreation center and convention center. All have held and will hold tournaments. The window of opportunity to take advantage of tournament growth is quickly closing. The tournament circuit will not wait several years for Henderson County facilities to compete for the declining number of available weekends. This issue is of particular interest to yet another county entity – The Tourism and Development Association.

Finally, the playing community in Henderson County is significantly greater than the article cited number of 150 members at HCAAC. Players at the YMCA, Lelia Patterson, and other private facilities add at least 100 to that total. But the player profile is almost exclusively retirees. This is primarily due to play being limited to morning and afternoon hours. There are two major groups that cannot participate during those windows – people who work during the day and students. The potential for growth among those groups is enormous if evening hours were available.

1 comment:

  1. Good letter covering many aspects of pickleball in Henderson county. Thanks, Paul. Look forward to county response.