By Debbie Adams
Just one year ago the residents of the Stonebridge neighborhood were fighting (successfully) to stop installation of a fenced cell tower at Stonebridge Park near William Byrd High School. At that time, citizens asked instead for regular maintenance and improvements to the park, rather than what they viewed as a structure disfiguring the area.
This October 21, Roanoke County Parks and Recreation celebrated improvements to the park, including renovated tennis courts and the addition of two new pickleball courts, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Stonebridge Park is a small community park which provides recreational opportunities including a baseball field, picnic shelter, basketball court, a playground, three tennis courts and now two new pickleball courts. Stonebridge Park also serves as an access point to the 2.2-mile Wolf Creek Greenway in Vinton.
According to Doug Blount, Director of Roanoke County General Services and Parks, Recreation, and Tourism, this enhancement to Stonebridge Park was driven by citizen feedback from community stakeholders who sought improvements to the surface of the tennis courts.
As a result, the county partnered with the USA Pickleball organization to convert one of the four tennis courts at Stonebridge Park into two pickleball courts. Blount says the recent renovations are an example of Roanoke County’s commitment to improving and maintaining outdoor recreation facilities for citizens.
Blount noted during his welcoming remarks to those attending the ceremony that he was raised in Vinton and is a graduate of William Byrd High School. Stonebridge Park holds special memories for him as he played tennis there and attended annual Boy Scout breakfasts at the picnic shelter at the park.
According to Blount, pickleball – a combination of table tennis (ping pong), badminton, and regular tennis – is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds as a sport for all ages and ability levels. Outdoor courts are also located at Garst Mill and Walrond Parks in the county and in several churches and fitness facilities in the Roanoke Valley.
Pickleball is played with a paddle and a plastic ball with holes. Matches can be played either doubles or singles. One main difference from tennis is that players on each side must let the ball bounce once before volleys are allowed to prevent “spiking.”
USA Pickleball Ambassador Carter Turner, a religious studies professor at Radford who is a member of the Roanoke County Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Advisory Commission, shared a story about how pickleball was invented in 1965.
Congressman Joel Pritchard from Washington State was on vacation with his family; the children got bored; there was a badminton court on the property and when they looked around, they found rackets, and a net, but no badminton “birdies.” They did find a plastic wiffle ball, and improvised, eventually substituted ping pong paddles, and came up with the new sport families could play together.
There are different versions of the story about how “pickleball” was named. One claims it was named for the Pritchard’s dog Pickles, but wife Joan Pritchard says the dog came two years after the game was invented, and was, in fact, named after the game. She explains that actually she mentioned that the game reminded her of the Pickle Boat in the sport of rowing “where mismatched oarsmen are chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”
Blount explained that with the support of the Board of Supervisors, Capital Maintenance funding was used for the improvements, which also included repairs to the courts, replacing fencing in the park, and paving and re-lining the parking lot. The work was completed, after much research, by Quality Seal Coating & Sports Surfaces, LLC, of Penhook. Assistant Director of Parks Mark Courtright, says the county was “blessed to get these contractors with their level of expertise.”
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jason Peters, who represents the Vinton Magisterial District on the board, said the improvements represent the “community’s vision for Stonebridge Park,” and serve to “enhance quality of life, to keep Roanoke healthy, clean, and beautiful, to expand outdoor recreational activities, and to promote economic vitality” in the county.
Carter Turner spoke of the importance of pickleball to a community and of his pride in Roanoke County for the efforts to bring the exciting sport to the Vinton community.
USA Pickleball Ambassador Karen Crawford thanked Roanoke County for adapting to trends in recreation and bringing the “ageless” sport to the area. She urged citizens to give the new sport a try.
Barbara Young, in her 80s, is a pickleball aficionado, who plays not only for the exercise, but for the social aspects of the game. She has played tennis for many years but finds pickleball to be a slower version of that sport, where you “don’t have to cover as much court.”
Player Clay Behrens says pickleball becomes an addiction.
Those who want to learn more about pickleball can check out the https://usapickleball.org/ website. You can sign up online with www.playtimesscheduler.com to get started and arrange local play sessions. Crawford says there are leagues and tournaments forming in the Roanoke Valley.
The new pickleball courts, and the renovated tennis courts, will be used by students at William Byrd high school and middle school. WBMS teacher Jeremy Baldwin says, “The PE department will be using both the tennis courts and the pickleball courts during the fall and spring. Pickleball has been part of our curriculum for years and the students love it!”