Sparkling new pickleball courts draw rave reviews: Joanie Moser Memorial Park facility features nine courts for fast-growing sport

Published 12:10 am Thursday, September 7, 2023

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Looking at all the numbers, it didn’t take long for Don Martin, chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, to figure out that adding pickleball courts just made good sense — along with Joanie Moser Memorial Park being an ideal location.

“The Sports & Fitness Industry Association has noted pickleball has been the fastest growing sport in the United in 2021, 2022 and in 2023,” Martin noted in the recent ribbon cutting and grand opening, “with a total of 8.9 million players in the United States over the age of 6, an increase from 4.8 million in 2022.

“With annual growth like that, I would like to remind everyone that the commissioners support pickleball while our opponents are against it.”

Gloria Whisenhunt, vice chair of the board of commissioners, added another perspective on growth, why pickleball is so popular and why the board approved spending well over $300,000 to construct nine pickleball-specific courts in Lewisville.

“The pickleball community loves to invite people to try the game because they find it to be so much fun … and they know others will, too,” Whisenhunt said. “Another explanation for growth in the game is strong enthusiasm and support shown by pickleball players.

“In 2020, not letting a little thing like COVID slow them down, pickleballers like Gary Hellmann, Albert Noda, Laura Patterson, Laura DeCinque, Joe Pyles and Peter Hoss, among others, reached out to the commissioners and the park’s staff about the large amount of play and small amount of dedicated pickleball courts available in Forsyth County parks. What followed were staff reports, location studies and PowerPoint presentations.”

Hellmann remembers getting together a small group that included himself, DeCinque and Noda, the founder and first president of Winston-Salem Pickleball Club, to go downtown for a commissioners’ meeting.

“We showed up and had three minutes to make our pitch,” Hellmann said. “Beyond that, it was an absolute team effort with a ton of people contributing in large and small ways — like, for example, Mike DiCio, who was the person who sort of spearheaded painting the pickleball lines on the tennis courts. That’s how we started playing at Joanie Moser by stripping the pickleball courts and bringing our own nets.”

Of course, the complex — which is part of individual community-based parks in unincorporated areas of the county that were first created and formed where local municipalities such as Lewisville have grown around them — featured two tennis courts and a basketball court for years before the transformation to all pickleball.

Damon Sanders-Pratt, deputy county manager, said that the county commissioners started looking into incorporating the growing sport in future plans by including a “board-directed initiative” that read: “Study the feasibility of either modifying current facilities or adding facilities at county parks in order to continue to provide recreational opportunities for individuals wishing to play pickleball.”
After the commissioners’ action, Sanders-Pratt said that county staff corresponded with representatives of the local pickleball group to better understand the request.

“There were only shared tennis/pickleball courts between Forsyth County’s and the City of Winston-Salem’s park systems,” he said. “Advocates emphasized to county staff the large amount of pickleball play and the lack of any dedicated pickleball courts in the county’s inventory. The lack of pickleball-specific facilities was shared in person and via email with the county commissioners who had already observed the increased play in the community, the enthusiasm from pickleball advocates, and pickleball’s more frequent appearances in the media.”

In January 2022, the commissioners authorized staff to move forward with planning for Forsyth County’s first dedicated pickleball courts.
And after completion last month at Joanie Moser, the end result has exceeded all expectations.

“The Forsyth County pickleball community is just in stitches in how good these courts are,” said Hellmann, who is vice president of the Winston-Salem Pickleball Club. “It took a lot of patience, hard work and wonderful coordination of the county commissioners and country parks and recreation staff.”

Hellmann said he started playing pickleball, just by chance, 10 years ago when he was working out at the Jerry Long Family YMCA in Clemmons.

“A neighbor of mine saw me running on the track up above, and she was down on the basketball court playing this strange-looking game,” he said. “And she motioned for me to come on down, and I was looking down and thinking this was a game for old people. So that can’t be any fun. And I got down there, and I think from my first game, I was absolutely hooked.

“The game is evolving, and I think it still is. It has grown from some sort of an old people’s game played in faraway places to now that I have every expectation that it will be an Olympic sport.”

Hellman offered a couple of characteristics that, in his opinion, make pickleball unique.

“First, it’s pretty easy to get pretty good pretty fast, whereas you can labor away at tennis and golf for years and still stink,” he said. “The other thing is creating the spirit of pickleball. It is completely different from tennis. It’s not just tennis played on a smaller court. Everyone is out there to help, inviting people to come in — basically, drop-in play is the essence of pickleball. You can’t do that with tennis. I love tennis as well, but you can’t drop in on a foursome and say, ‘Can I play too?’

“It’s way more than just a game. I have seen people I know that without pickleball, they would be sitting at home on their couch just watching TV. The important thing is that people can play at any age. You see kids out there, and then we’ve got several players who are in their 80s, and they still have game.”

Players have turned out in droves, filling up the new courts when the sun comes up … with another wave coming mid-morning and then others in the afternoon and later.

Chris Weavil, the director of the Forsyth County Parks and Recreation Department, was the one to give out the “Play Ball” decree on Aug. 18, the opening day of the complex.

“They started playing about 11 o’clock, and I don’t think they’ve stopped since,” Weavil said.

While these are the first dedicated pickleball courts in the county, the City of Winston-Salem has 16 pickleball-specific courts, with Sedge Garden Park having 10 of them and Kernersville having three.

DreamBuilt Construction served as the general contractor for the Joanie Moser Park project, which includes new surfacing, 12 covered on-court benches, four off-court benches, fencing separating the courts and regulation netting.

The original bid was about $200,000, but after some time passed, it came back significantly higher, according to Weavil, but the final contract was looking to be “a little under $340,000.”

“We are very appreciative of what the commissioners and the county have done to fund the upfit of the courts,” Weavil said. “It’s a beautiful facility and will be a great asset to that side of town.”

Those interested in learning more about playing pickleball locally can check out the Winston-Salem Pickleball Club on Facebook or just show up at the courts at 601 Lewisville-Clemmons Road. You’ll be more than welcome.