The Wichita Park Board is asking the city to convert two more tennis courts to pickleball fields in east Wichita, a year after it rejected the proposal.
The leadership change sets up a showdown at City Hall that leaves the Wichita City Council to choose between tennis, a popular sport that has been a staple of the city’s parks and recreation programs for decades, and the pickleball, an upstart game that is growing in popularity. .
At stake are two tennis courts in Edgemoor Park, one of two city-owned tennis facilities large enough to accommodate tennis tournaments, high school and college practices, clinics, and youth camps. The Wichita Park Board wants to replace them with six pickleball courts so the sailors can have another place to play after dark.
It would give pickleball users 12 courts in Edgemoor, helping boost revenue for private pickleball leagues looking to run smaller-scale regional tournaments while they wait for the town to complete a $3 million, 20-court pickleplex. which is slated to open in South Wichita in 2024. Half of those courts will be lit, said Wichita Parks and Recreation Director Troy Houtman.
But picklers want more courts now. Houtman said he fielded calls several times a week from frustrated pickleball players who wanted more places to play.
“They would be the most dedicated and most used courts in a town of Wichita until the pickleball complex is complete,” said Becky Middleton, who led the charge to add pickleball courts to Edgemoor Park. .
It is cheaper to convert tennis courts into pickleball courts than to install lights on the six existing pickleball courts in Edgemoor.
Middleton’s fundraising campaign, “Light Up Edgemoor,” raised $27,000 in donations, but fell far short of the estimated $100,000 needed to install lights on existing pickleball courts. With matching funds from the Wichita Park Foundation, Middleton said, his group can pay for the city to replace the two tennis courts under the lights.
“We’re not asking for money, but giving the city six more pickleball courts,” Middleton said. “There is an overabundance of tennis courts compared to pickleball courts.”
“At this point, I think it’s a national issue,” Middleton said. “The tennis community is completely against pickleball, and they feel like they own 100% of the painted concrete with their tennis lines. And they don’t.
Lines or no lines?
The tennis community pushed back against the pickleball community’s lobbying campaign and demanded the city find a compromise that would not take the courts away from tennis players.
Probably the group most affected by the change is the Wichita Classical School, a private, nonprofit K-12 school in East Wichita. Its junior high and high school tennis teams train at Edgemoor six months a year.
Julie Kice, one of the classic school tennis coaches, said she was not against pickleball. But losing the courts would be devastating for the approximately 65 boys and girls in his tennis program. His players should probably find a new place to train after 10 years of Edgemoor being leased to the city. One option is McAdams Park, but that would require some of its high school students to struggle with after-school traffic on Kellogg and I-135. She said the demand for pickleball in Edgemoor has been exaggerated by town officials and the ‘Light Up Edgemoor’ group.
“I might be the Wichita human who spends the most time in Edgemoor Park,” Kice said. “It was clarified that morning, noon and evening there are queues for pickleball. And I just want to, I want to point out, that I don’t mean it’s combative or anything, but I literally never saw a line there.
Kice was responding to a comment Houtman made at an August Park board meeting, when he said growing demand justifies replacing tennis courts with pickleball courts.
“When I look at the use of the tennis courts – when pickleball is played morning, noon and night – these people (tennis players) really have a very small amount of time that they use these tennis courts. So what I’m trying to say is there’s definitely a higher demand for pickleball than for tennis,” Houtman said Aug. 8.
Several recent checks of Edgemoor Park – on a mild Friday afternoon in August, during peak hours of the holiday weekend partly cloudy 70 degrees in the morning and on Tuesday mid-morning – found most of the courts of vacant Edgemoor pickleball and tennis courts.
Split Edgemoor Courts
The yard war at Edgemoor has resulted in a huge show of support from the tennis and pickleball communities and more than a year of discussions within the Wichita Park Board.
In April 2021, tennis fans flooded the park board with written comments asking them not to remove two other tennis courts deemed essential to the city’s tennis ecosystem, leading the board to drop the discussion. so that the city can come up with an alternative plan.
Last month, dozens of mariners showed up at a board meeting and again demanded the two courts. The park board voted in favor of the plan on August 22, pending city council approval.
To understand the conflict, you need to understand the layout of the Edgemoor tennis complex. It includes two fenced concrete blocks of equal size with netting and painted courts. The one to the north has lights and four tennis courts; the one to the south has no lights, six pickleball courts and two tennis courts.
Converting two additional tennis courts to lighted pickleball courts would leave four tennis courts – two lit and two unlit.
Nicholas Taylor – a Wichita native, three-time Paralympic doubles gold medalist, 11-time Grand Slam champion and director of operations for Wichita State University Tennis – offered a solution that would benefit tennis players and players alike. of pickleball. But that would force the City of Wichita to reverse its own decision to place the original pickleball courts in an unlit area.
“If there is still a real need for more lighted pickleball courts, I believe there is a better solution than just losing more tennis courts,” he wrote to the Wichita Park Board in April. last. “Perhaps the pickleball courts at Edgemoor Park could be moved to the lighted bank of courts and the current pickleball courts could be converted back into tennis courts. This solution would make it possible to light up the pickleball courts but no longer lose tennis courts.
The park board did not consider this option last month and instead opted to recommend replacing the two tennis courts. The Wichita City Council will ultimately decide whether to accept the council’s recommendation or opt for an alternative plan.
This story was originally published September 7, 2022 4:37 a.m.