Play wouldn’t officially start for another 40 minutes, but early-birds to opening day at the Founders Courts pickleball center were already greeted by the staccato sounds of lucent plastic balls being whacked back and forth across the taut black web of the net.
Tok. TOK. Tok …. TOK. Tok tok tok … TOK!
“I told them they could warm up early,” said Clay Roberts, Bainbridge Pickleball impresario and event emcee, as if – Tok Tok TOK! – he could have kept them off the courts anyway.
“I wake up a lot of days and think, this is a great day for pickleball on Bainbridge Island,” Roberts said, surveying the already humming play. “Today it takes on a whole new meaning. This is a really great day for pickleball on Bainbridge Island.”
The Founders Courts at Battle Point Park opened for play Aug. 19 with festivities marking a permanent home for pickleball at the birthplace of the game.
Anticipation had been building for weeks, as pickleballers watched the six-court facility take shape as they played between makeshift lines marked out on the old tennis courts adjacent.
It was an unqualified feel-good story in a year that could use more of them: pickleballers partnering with the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District and Bainbridge Island Parks Foundation to develop all-new sports courts, the $140,000 (and counting) in cash and in-kind donations raised, the whirlwind construction, the undeniably splendid results.
Roberts credited Terry Lande, Park District executive director, for proposing that pickleballers have their own facility apart from tennis, and the Park Board for green-lighting funding even as private fundraising was ongoing.
Phase 2, a new plaza with shaded tables, commemorative pavers and interpretive panels on the history of the game, is now under construction.
“We’re pretty lucky. When you ask for a lot less and get a lot more, that’s not the way this is supposed to go,” Roberts said. “All we were asking for is to repurpose the tennis courts, and we end up with a whole new complex. That’s not the way this usually works.”
He also lauded the Park District construction team for industry and precision. Despite losing weeks to the pandemic and with an overfull slate of projects including the new KidsUp! Playground next door, the team led by David Harry oversaw the court build from start to finish in under four months.
“The logistics of this project were more complicated than the project itself,” said Dan Hamlin, the district’s Park Services director. “Covid protocols were new when we launched this project, and David managed it very well.”
Said Roberts: “It was warp-speed by anybody’s standards. Not only did they do it in such a short period of time, just look at this facility. These are some of the nicest courts you’re ever going to play on, and they’re right where they should be, at the home of the game.”
The color scheme of “Pro Purple” court lanes and green surrounds was cribbed from Indian Wells Tennis Garden, a sprawling Palm Springs complex owned by Oracle founder Larry Ellison that will host next year’s national pickleball championships.
There’s actually science behind it: on a color wheel, the purple hue lies directly opposite the fluorescent yellow of the ball, meaning ideal contrast and visibility for players.
“We figured Ellison’s colorist decided they were the right colors,” Roberts said, “and we didn’t have that kind of money to hire someone to choose.”
Foursomes paid $200 to reserve court time during the first three hours of play, with all donations going toward court construction and planned amenities.
Typical was the quartet of Sherry Burke, Terri Segadelli, Robin Schmidt and Lori Hefner, who generally play as a group to meet Covid prevention mandates. Exiting the court after their inaugural hour of play, the superlatives whooshed forth like a well-struck pickleball in flight:
“…awesome, a night-and-day difference…”
“…the colors are perfect, the surface is perfect…”
“….and we have real lines and we don’t have to put up the nets…”
“…you feel like you’re really playing pickleball, as opposed to ‘what’s that line’ on the tennis court…”
“It’s been a great project to support,” said Burke by way of summation, crediting Roberts for his Barnum-level promotional skills. “Clay should have been a snake-oil salesman. ‘Get a hat. Get a shirt. Get a tile, we just need a little more.’ And you feel good and think, I can give a little more.”
Handmade signs honored Joel Pritchard, Barney McCallum and Bill Bell, who share credit for inventing the game in the back yard of the Pritchard compound on Pleasant Beach in 1965. McCallum, the longest surviving member of the founding trio, passed away last year at age 93, but was surely there in spirit with his fellows.
One court was reserved for honors play, with Roberts assembling quartets of top contributors and others who provided inspiration through the project.
Honorees included Justin Gallant, who as a 10-year-old scraped together a $100 gift early on, and 89-year-old Ginger Klute, the group’s oldest player, who took up the game just a year ago and was now banging the ball around with gusto.
“I absolutely love it. It’s unbelievable,” she said. “I can hardly wait!”
Wait for what? The courts are open. You just played.
“To play again tomorrow,” she said.
The wonder may have been that she or anyone else actually went home.
GRAB YOUR PADDLE: The Founders Courts pickleball center is open daily at Battle Point Park during regular park hours. New to the game? The courts see heavy play each morning and ambassadors will be glad to bring you in. Players are urged to use appropriate distancing and other protections, ideally teaming up with known, regular partners to prevent virus spread.