Court of Dreams

The SFIA 2019 Pickleball Participation Report claims that there are “3.3 million players in the US,” which is just over one percent of the nation’s population of those age six and up. When we moved into our current location several years ago, we had never even heard of pickleball. Now, this seemingly obscure sport (that has, in fact, been around for 55 years), takes up most of our spare time, energy and more recently, a chunk of our money.

One of three courts set up at Mt Erie Elementary Gym (pre-Covid)

A year ago, I began facilitating pickleball play at a nearby elementary school, one of the Anacortes Parks and Recreation Department’s (APRD) drop-in programs. Coordinating this type of play was a challenge. On one hand, because it was part of parks and rec, I needed to make sure than anyone who showed up, from first-timers to seasoned veterans, could play and hopefully have fun. On the other hand, groupings of players with a huge range in skill levels (from beginners to 4.5+) sometimes made it not much fun for anyone. With three courts, allowing everyone a chance to play just a little up and a little down (about 0.5 rating difference being ideal), was difficult. I held onto the thought that, done right, it could be fun for everyone.

Darlene sits in (at the Clearidge courts) because doubles is always more fun than singles or cutthroat.

As autumn became winter, the APRD increased the amount of time they allowed us to use the gym by about 50%, from eight hours to twelve. And play was free! But with concerns about Covid, the coordinator informed us in early March that our access to the gym had ended. During the five months we were allowed access, over a hundred participants took part. As the facilitator, I learned that making everyone happy was absolutely impossible, and was relieved to get a break. Fortunately, the end to indoor play was perfectly timed with better weather and an increase in daylight hours. Unfortunately, there was no public place to play outdoors until June 5, 2020, when Skagit County moved into Phase 2. By noon, the previously locked gates surrounding the courts at Clearidge, the only public place to play in Anacortes, were unlocked and nets installed on two of the four courts.

PickleDale Court Design (Courtesy of Scott Smith, Designer)

By this time, the idea that had been brewing in my husband Scott’s head to transform our dilapidated concrete basketball court into one appropriately sized and surfaced for pickleball returned. With the help of USA Pickleball’s Pickleball Courts: A Construction & Maintenance Manual, Scott designed the court, obtained bids, and chose ProScapes to do all but the surfacing work, which he hired NW Sports Surfacing to do.

In April of 2020, after Scott’s dad passed away, he decided to name the court PickleDale in his honor of his father. ProScapes began the work in May by removing a wood structure, two non-native trees and excavating for the addition of a concrete perimeter to be placed around the existing pad.

As the landscaping company’s work on the concrete perimeter and observation pads progressed, Scott tracked down the lead guy at NW Surfacing, Bob Schinkel, and asked to be added to their planned project list for the summer court-surfacing season. Bob agreed. And suggested some things that would have already been incorporated into our court, had the USA Pickleball plans included the information, especially the use of Zip Strips, a product to create controlled concrete joints. Bob recommended that the fence posts be placed two inches from the face of concrete rather than the one inch shown on the USA Pickleball plans in order to provide a gap between the chain link fence fabric and the court. We asked that ProScapes build it that way. Doing so left a gap large enough for a ball to roll under at the high points of the zig-zag formed by the fencing, which was remedied by threading a vinyl coated wire through the bottom of the fabric. The only other mistake was the designer’s placement of the inserts for the fence posts, which, at six inches narrower than the manual suggests, crowds the ends of the net but allows easier success at Around The Post (ATP) attempts.

My husband’s goal for the project was to gain a place where we could invite others to show up and conveniently enjoy The Crack Cocaine of Sports. I was equally concerned about getting buy-in, acceptance, approval (whatever you want to call it) from our nearest neighbors.

The Wire

To that end, I invited them to give the sport a try. They did. We set reasonable court-use times (“The ball doesn’t drop before 9 o’ clock” is my mantra to our invitees) and stuck to them. I gave out my cell number and asked that our neighbors let us know if they had any concerns. In my experience: pickleball brings people together. And in the case of our court, it has. Even in the time of Covid (this was months ago), we were able to make a connection with several of our neighbors because of pickleball. With a Court of Dreams, we can provide a place for others to play and enjoy our time on the court without worry because we try to be as considerate as possible.

Court of Dreams is a real thing. We built it. And they came. Okay, so nobody famous has shown up yet, but we don’t care. In the time of the Coronavirus, we hired local contractors to refurbish our existing (pretty lame, to be honest), sports pad and transform it into a beautiful, usable pickleball court. Doing so has allowed us to choose those with whom we want to play, saves us tons of travel time, and has helped us to connect with our neighbors.

Now, if only Darlene would lower her cat standards enough to heft a paddle and join in on the fun…

Darlene the cat trying to adjust the human’s improper petting technique (at Clearidge) during a break in pickleball play.

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