The OPC Pickleball Club that regularly plays at the Parksville Community Park tennis courts is now pushing for a dedicated court for their sport. — Michael Briones photo

Pickleball club lobbies for Parksville courts

Delegations offers council $9,000 toward eight dedicated courts

Having enjoyed exponential growth in its five years of existence, the OPC Pickleball Club believes the time has come for the next step in its evolution:

Dedicated courts on which to play.

Tom Staite and Jim Cunningham appeared as a delegation before Parksville’s city council at its regular meeting Sept. 18 to lobby for eight dedicated pickleball courts at a location to be determined.

“In five years at OPC, we started with 25 initial members of the club, and now there are 170, with players as far away as Arizona,” said Staite.

OPC Pickleball Club, one of three organizations hosting pickleball play in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area, currently shares space on the tennis courts and the lacrosse box, both at Community Park in Parksville, and on the Qualicum Beach community tennis courts.

Pickleball is a game that resembles tennis, but which uses a much smaller court and net, smaller, solid paddles and a larger, low-impact ball.

Staite and Cunningham said their organization is prepared to contribute $9,000 toward construction of eight pickleball courts, which would fit into a space roughly the size of two regulation tennis courts.

The city has already set aside $120,000 toward the construction of courts, which Staite said would cost roughly $140,000, not including excavation, drainage or on-site storage facilities.

The club’s preferred timeline is to begin excavation in November, with an unveiling of a new facility in May of 2018.

“Our current facilities are marked for multi-sport usage,” said Staite. “Currently, our portable nets go up and down and are not available to the general public. Dedicated courts would provide access to everyone.”

Staite shared statistics from a 2017 Regional District of Nanaimo research report that indicates 11 per cent of household members in the greater Parksville Qualicum Beach area play tennis, with 12 tennis courts available in Parksville. At the same time, 10 per cent of household members locally play pickleball, with zero dedicated courts available.

The nearest pickleball-specific facility is in Nanaimo, 32 kilometres away. Other Vancouver Island communities with dedicated pickleball courts, Staite said, are Victoria, Port Alberni and Lake Cowichan.

“Sport tourism is thriving in Parksville,” Staite said. “Our second annual pickleball tournament attracted 144 players, the majority from outside our community. One of our Realtors told us people are purchasing homes based on available pickleball courts.”

Coun. Mary Beil told the men their presentation came at a good time, as the city is scheduled to receive the draft Community Park Master Plan Oct. 2 from its consultants at Vancouver Island University.

Coun. Kirk Oates said he had just returned from Edmonton on a flight on which “probably half the plane” was filled with hockey players en route to Parksville for the annual Parksville Panters September Classic old-timers hockey tournament.

“The potential to attract people to our city through sport tourism, we should strongly consider providing the infrastructure for,” said Oates. “I support increasing those opportunities.”

Staite and Cunningham shared two letters of support, one from Parksville-Qualicum MLA and Paralympic gold medalist Michelle Stilwell and one from the Arrowsmith Tennis Club.

“It relieves the pressure on the tennis courts, obviously,” ATC president Paul Arnell told The NEWS. “And most of our members are seniors. Pickleball is a popular thing for ex-tennis players to retire to.”

Arnell said disagreements over shared facilities devolved into “hassle and conflict” between tennis players and pickleball players in the Comox Valley.

“My thought was, let’s see if we can get together in Parksville. Let’s sort this thing out and do it right.”