The SODA Blog

The official blog of the Sportsplex Operators & Developers Association

Spring Fest offers good clean fun !

The event, a collaboration between Steen Sports Park, Klamath Freedom Celebration and Youth Rising, is an expansion of the Winter Fest event held last December at the same location. A wide assortment of activities are being planned, including sumo wrestling, an obstacle course, various relay races, basketball, a bounce house and carnival games. The activities are designed to cater to youth from elementary through high school ages as well as families.

Two new activities will be tested, for which Steen Sports Park hope to make a more permanent fixture in Klamath Falls – archery tag and knockerball. Archery tag incorporates foam-tipped arrows and bows in an enclosed course with bunkers and hiding areas, providing an experience similar to paintball or laser tag. Knockerball adds an unusual twist to soccer, placing each player inside a large protective bubble allowing a lot of safe and often hilarious collisions on par with protective sumo wrestling suits. In addition to archery tag competitions, targets will also be setup.

Carnival tradition

Any carnival of course needs food, and the traditional treats will be available such as cotton candy, hot dogs and drinks.

Dispelling the myth and all-too-common complaint from youth that there’s nothing to do, Spring Fest is the latest effort by Youth Rising to get kids active and involved. The organization, which launched roughly two years ago as a spin-off from Marta’s House, operates a downtown facility providing games and positive activities after school.

“Youth Rising is a community-driven program empowering youth to take control of their own lives so they can positively impact themselves and their peer group while being more active in the community,” explained Rich Ortiz, Youth Rising assistant director. “It’s a safe place to hang out after school during the time frame that has been shown to be the most critical when kids get into risky behaviors when parents may still be at work. Spring Fest is the latest in alternate activities we try to provide, giving people something different in ways to have fun.”

Giving back

The effort to provide positive activities for youth hits close to home for Doug Brown, founder of Klamath Freedom Celebration, who has sought to expand on his efforts to give back to the Klamath Falls community beyond veterans. Brown is active in coordinating community events surrounding Memorial Day, veterans Day, Fourth of July, and the annual Basin Brew & Q, and sees Spring Fest as one more way to give back.

“I saw that there was something missing, one area I’ve always wanted to provide to the community, beyond veterans and fighting cancer, is something for the youth,” said Brown. “I’m honored to have been asked to be on the board of directors and I love being a partner with Steen Sports Park to bring in activities to make our community better. This is something I fell in love with, we just want to make the park successful and along the way make the community more successful.”

Activity trends

Adding archery tag and knockerball are the result of Basin United Soccer Club President Mark Dodson’s recent trip to Atlantic City to experience the latest and greatest activities growing in popularity in other communities. Dodson spent a week trying out new sports and activities that could be brought to Steen Sports Park, while learning from other community representatives from across the country how they coordinate events and regional tournaments. Knockerball groups have already launched in Portland, Eugene and Bend, and Dodson likes being at the forefront of new trends.

“As the largest privately funded athletic facility in the Pacific Northwest, we’re trying to find different avenues and more opportunities to get people out there,” said Dodson. “Knockerball is one more thing to try. We want to provide any sort of physical activity that gets people together, these are the kind of things that could be rented for a birthday party. For the size of this community we are very fortunate to have a facility of this size, and we are going after more regional events.”

Teen volunteers

Staying in line with Youth Rising’s philosophy, Ortiz is particularly proud that around half of all volunteers operating activities at Spring Fest will be teenagers from the community.

“We want to make sure that young people are actively involved,” added Ortiz.

Net proceeds from the Spring Fest will be split between Youth Rising and Klamath Freedom Celebration, helping both organizations continue to serve the Klamath Falls community. Admission for the event is $5, which includes 10 carnival tickets. Additional carnival tickets may be purchased on site. Additional fees and height restrictions are placed on knockerball participation.

For more information visit www.youth-rising.com or www.steensportspark.com.

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BEACON Ballfields Weekly Field Tips ! ( May – ’17.)

May 15, 2017       |       BeaconAthletics.com        |       Ballfields.com

THIS WEEK’S FIELD TIP

I grew up in California, in the San Francisco area. Over the course of the first twenty-five years of my life we experienced a major drought and some other moderate droughts, too. If you have ever lived in an area where water scarcity is a concern, your role as a groundskeeper or sports turf manager becomes heavily scrutinized in a hurry. “Why on earth are you watering dirt?!!!!”Believe me, I heard that loudly a number of times in my teens and early twenties, when I was tending to fields or working as a baseball coach in California. To the novice, the notion of watering around home plate, on the baselines and the infield dirt is about dust control. To the grounds manager on a baseball field, watering dirt is about ensuring that the entire soil profile players hit, pitch, run and field on has sufficient moisture not just on the surface, but through the surface…

Click here to continue reading this article on Ballfields.com from Minnesota Twins Head Groundskeeper Larry Divito, “Give Me Some Water”…


You can also learn more about hoses & nozzles at the Groundskeeper University lesson, Module 105. Moisture Management: Hoses & Nozzles …

Visit Ballfields.com frequently for tips & articles andGroundskeeperU.com for online training.

50′ or 100′ GH Field Hose — 10% OFF

IN STOCK: Ships within 24 hours! Improved design, this hose handles a working pressure up to 150 psi. Constructed with a smooth PVC inner tube. Choose from 50′ (1″) or 100′ (1″). Exclusive GH Field Hose, use gh10 during checkout (offer valid thru May 21).

Orange Mushroom Anchor Plug — 10% OFF

Use on ground anchors when bases are not in use. Prevents dirt buildup around stake and inside sleeve. Orange Mushroom plug is sold as single plug. Exclusive Orange Mushroom Base Anchor Plug, use mushroom10 during checkout (offer valid thru May 21).

Open Box ITEM OF THE WEEK

Open Box Item — Jack Corbett Base Set Save $34!   Get the big league bases at a discount. This set of bases used by all 32 MLB teams has one base that is slightly used — it did not fit the customer’s ground anchor, so it is slightly used and has just a little dirt color on the bottom. The other two bases are brand new. Set of 3. Brand-new/slightly-used condition. Jack Corbett Base Set

ONLINE TRAINING for Staff & Volunteers

COMPLETELY FREE & MOBILE FRIENDLY. We’ve relaunched the web’s premier online field maintenance training tool, Groundskeeper University. Our goal is to bring professional training directly to you and your staff. But that means it has to be done right. Learn the tried & true practices of the pros. Our dedicated online resources by groundskeepers for groundskeepers are available in whichever format works for you: blog articles, online field dimensions, innovative products and training at Groundskeeper U. Whatever you need for your ballfield, think Beacon. 

Visit Groundskeeper University!

Get the Ultimate Ballfield Resource…

If you need it for your field, you’ll find it here. Request your copy today. Our 2017 catalog is a complete listing of products to keep you rolling with everything you need all season long.

 

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It’s Never To Late – Save Your Program Money !
Check Out Our Insurance Program Today !

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BEACON Ballfields Weekly Field Tips ! ( May – ’17.)

May 8, 2017       |       BeaconAthletics.com        |       Ballfields.com

THIS WEEK’S FIELD TIP

Wet fields are just a fact of life when it comes maintaining your ballpark. After a rain event, your first order of business is to remove any standing water. The less water that is allowed to deeply penetrate the infield soil, the faster you can turn the field around and get it back to playable. Your best bet is using a tool like a puddle pump or a puddle pillow/sponge. When using a puddle pump, find the deepest spot of the puddle or dig a small hole that you can rest the pump in to suck up the water. A piece of filter fabric over the pump will prevent silt or other soil material from getting up into the pump. Run a hose from the pump out to the outfield grass and pump as much water as you can off the infield skin.

Learn all the do’s and don’ts for your wet fields at the Groundskeeper University lesson, Module 104. Rainfall Rescues: Ways to Attack a Wet Field …

Visit Ballfields.com frequently for tips & articles andGroundskeeperU.com for online training.

Triple Play Batter’s Box Template — 10% OFF

IN STOCK: Ships within 24 hours! All of your batter’s box sizes in one template. This batter’s box template is a big time saver and makes sure your batter’s box is always accurately aligned with home plate. Three sizes in one simple template. Exclusive Triple Play Batter’s Box Template, use trip10 during checkout (offer valid thru May 14).

Beacon Plow Pan Spiker — 10% OFF

Designed for punishing fractaction of compacted infield soils. This unit features two offset rows of heavy-duty forged spikes. Available in 4’W and 6’W. Exclusive Beacon Plow Pan Spiker, use plow10 during checkout (offer valid thru May 14).

Open Box ITEM OF THE WEEK

Open Box Item — Standard Backstop Padding About HALF OFF!   There are two options: Royal blue 4’H x 10’W or Kelly green 45″H x 87″W. In both cases the padding was returned for being the wrong size. Standard Backstop Padding

ONLINE TRAINING for Staff & Volunteers

COMPLETELY FREE & MOBILE FRIENDLY. We’ve relaunched the web’s premier online field maintenance training tool, Groundskeeper University. Our goal is to bring professional training directly to you and your staff. But that means it has to be done right. Learn the tried & true practices of the pros. Our dedicated online resources by groundskeepers for groundskeepers are available in whichever format works for you: blog articles, online field dimensions, innovative products and training at Groundskeeper U. Whatever you need for your ballfield, think Beacon. 

Visit Groundskeeper University!

Get the Ultimate Ballfield Resource…

If you need it for your field, you’ll find it here. Request your copy today. Our 2017 catalog is a complete listing of products to keep you rolling with everything you need all season long.

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It’s Never To Late – Save Your Program Money !
Check Out Our Insurance Program Today !

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Miami may kick-start sports park on Virginia Key landfill !

May 2, 2017 – Miami, FL

Miami may kick-start sports park on Virginia Key landfill

Miami Commissioner Ken Russell is ready to kick-start a sports park on an old Virginia Key landfill.
He made his pitch to the Virginia Key Advisory Board. He’d asked to discuss potential development of a sports and recreational facility on the city-owned key.
It’s not a new idea: it’s part of the 2010 Virginia Key Master Plan, which includes information on the landfill, the scope of a park on top of it, and a site plan of sporting fields, parking and more. It’s even referred to as Landfill Park.
“It is 116½ acres of open land – a blank canvas on which we can dream,” Mr. Russell told the board April 25.
“I wanted to bring it up here first… I’m hoping it sparks a discussion and leads to a recommendation to the city commission from you,” he said, noting he hadn’t discussed the idea with commissioners or the city manager’s office.
“Park space is so limited in the city,” he said. “If we start planning this now, we can get it right.”
Board members agreed there’s a lack of city park space. Without a vote, they supported pursuing a sports park there.
Members did ask that Jeovanny Rodriguez, director of the city’s Office of Capital Improvements, and a representative from the county report on the status of remediation at the site at the board’s May 23 meeting.
“We have some time. The county is still remediating until 2018,” said Mr. Russell.
Board member Blanca Mesa said, “We would like an update on what’s happening with remediation. It will dictate what happens there.”
According to the master plan, the centrally-located site formerly was a municipal and regional dump. It’s south of the Miami-Dade County Sewage Treatment Plant. The city has a commitment from the county to close and remediate the landfill.
“The closure plan has provided impetus for creating a premier regional park for the City of Miami that caters to the needs for active recreation, environmental education and supporting facilities that will add varied opportunities to provide fitness and education for users of all ages,” says the master plan.
The plan’s proposed improvements include a recreation center with restrooms, multi-use recreation space, classrooms, offices, locker rooms and covered outdoor terraces.
There are 19.9 acres of sports fields for competition in softball, little league, football and soccer, and a 9-acre open recreation meadow for informal play. An ADA accessible playground, batting cages and four tennis courts would provide additional active recreation.
The balance of the proposed park is 85 acres of trees with multi-use nature trails that connect to all park facilities. The park is also served with amenities such as picnic areas and a nearby 160-space parking lot, in addition to existing parking along Arthur Lamb Road.
“I do like open recreation,” said Mr. Russell, but suggested staying open minded to consider non-traditional sports.
As for specifics sports, he suggested leaving room for the community to weigh in: “Maybe there are voices out there we’ve not heard yet.”
Kevin Kirwin, city’s parks department head and a non-voting board member, said: “It can be a really great park for the City of Miami.”

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It’s Never To Late – Save Your Program Money !
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Added New To SODA Insurance Program 2017 !

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By popular demand, we have added archery to the SODA National Insurance policy.
 
We also added the Non-Owned / Hired Auto Liability and the Sexual Abuse/Molestation optional coverages to the policy. 

 

This is a GREAT asset to the program, one that has been sought after for years and……it is now available through SODA Sports Insurance Program 2017 !

 

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BEACON Ballfields Weekly Field Tips ! ( May – ’17.)

Multi_sports_complex_1

May 1, 2017       |       BeaconAthletics.com        |       Ballfields.com

THIS WEEK’S FIELD TIP

You’re probably fairly confident about how to lay down your foul lines… the string line should be anchored so your foul line will be entirely in fair territory; the foul edge of the foul line will line up exactly with the foul edge of the base; and, pull the string line as tight as possible then snap it to straighten it. Module 106. Creating Foul Lines at GroundskeeperU.com gives you all the info you need.

But there’s more than just foul lines. For tips on setting up your runner’s lane, softball pitcher’s circle, batter’s box, catcher’s box, and coach’s box, you’ll want to reference the Groundskeeper University lesson, Laying Out Your Ballfield. It’s full of great tips for getting it all right.

Visit Ballfields.com frequently for tips & articles andGroundskeeperU.com for online training.

Hollywood Bury-All Home Plate — 10% OFF

IN STOCK: Ships within 24-48 hours! High-durability all-rubber 3″ thick construction. Waffle-bottom homeplate design. Exclusive Hollywood Bury-All Home Plate, use bury10 during checkout (offer valid thru May 8).

Battyshack Bat and Ball Holder — 10% OFF

IN STOCK: Ships within 24-48 hours! This bat and ball holder mounts easily to the fence and features heady-duty molded plastic construction. Holds up to 5 baseballs or 6 softballs and up to 12 bats. Includes handy dry erase lineup / batting order card.. Exclusive Battyshack Bat and Ball Holder, use batty10 during checkout (offer valid thru May 8).

Open Box ITEM OF THE WEEK

Open Box Item — “Return Balls Here” Sign SAVE nearly 80%!   Everyone will know where that foul ball should go. Amazing value at nearly 80% OFF! Non-standard colors, tan border and lettering on green background.  Brand-new condition. Return Balls Here Signd

ONLINE TRAINING for Staff & Volunteers

COMPLETELY FREE & MOBILE FRIENDLY. We’ve relaunched the web’s premier online field maintenance training tool, Groundskeeper University. Our goal is to bring professional training directly to you and your staff. But that means it has to be done right. Learn the tried & true practices of the pros. Our dedicated online resources by groundskeepers for groundskeepers are available in whichever format works for you: blog articles, online field dimensions, innovative products and training at Groundskeeper U. Whatever you need for your ballfield, think Beacon. 

Visit Groundskeeper University!

Get the Ultimate Ballfield Resource…

If you need it for your field, you’ll find it here. Request your copy today. Our 2017 catalog is a complete listing of products to keep you rolling with everything you need all season long.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

It’s Never To Late – Save Your Program Money !
Check Out Our Insurance Program Today !

SODA_AD_17
www.sadlersports.com/soda

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Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team to play at Sacramento’s Raley Field May 6 !

softballRESTON, VA  – The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team (WWAST) will head to Sacramento, Calif. for a doubleheader at Raley Field, home of the Sacramento River Cats minor league baseball team, on May 6. The WWAST will take on the Sacramento All-Stars at 3:30 p.m. before the River Cats host division-rival Reno Aces at 7:05 p.m. for Salute to Armed Forces.  This is the second time the WWAST will take the field in West Sacramento after making their Raley Field debut in July of 2015.  Tickets are available now and can be purchased through www.rivercats.com/tickets or by calling the River Cats ticket line at (916) 376-HITS (4487).

“It is very exciting to be returning to Sacramento,” said WWAST Executive Director and US Army Retired Veteran, Dennis Wince. “Working with the event organizer, we have seen firsthand the strong pride that this area displays for military personnel and Wounded Warriors. It is very gratifying to see the recognition for those that have served our country.”

The WWAST is made up of brave men and women, both veterans and active duty soldiers, from all service branches, who have sustained injuries resulting in amputation. Through extensive rehabilitation, they have become competitive athletes again, playing against able-bodied teams in competitive, celebrity, and exhibition games across the country.

In addition to functioning as an outlet for veterans and active duty soldiers to compete athletically, the WWAST uses these cross-country games to raise funds for the WWAST Kids Camp, medical research, and rehabilitation equipment. Now in its fifth year, the WWAST Kids Camp seeks to empower young boys and girls with amputations. The camps are led by WWAST players who work as coaches and mentors, helping teach not just softball skills, but more importantly life skills as well.

“Sacramento is proud to host the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team again,” said Event Organizer Sara Minnehan. “We are a city who cares for our veterans, and are excited to team up with the Sacramento River Cats to bring them to our area.”

For more information regarding the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team and upcoming events, visit www.thewwast.org.

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About USA Softball
USA Softball is a 501(c)(3) not-for profit organization headquartered in Oklahoma City, Okla., and is designated as the National Governing Body (NGB) of Softball in the United States and a member of the United States Olympic Committee. One of the nation’s largest sports organizations, USA Softball sanctions competition in every state through a network of 70 local associations and has grown from a few hundred teams in the early days to over 150,000 teams today, representing a membership of more than 2 million.  USA Softball is dedicated to providing people of all ages the opportunity to play the game they love at a variety of levels by offering recreational, league, tournament and competitive play for fast pitch, slow pitch and modified pitch.  USA Softball annually conducts thousands of tournaments throughout the country including over 100 National Championships.  The USA Softball umpire program is among the nation’s largest and are widely known as the best trained umpires in the game.

As the NGB for the sport of softball, USA Softball is responsible for training, equipping and promoting the six USA Softball National Teams that compete in events such as the Olympics, Pan American Games, World Championships and other international and domestic events. For more information on USA Softball, including its founding and history as the Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA), please visit, www.USASoftball.com.

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About Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team

The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team (WWAST) is a standalone 501(c)(3) public charity whose mission is to inspire and educate others while enhancing the health and welfare of wounded warrior amputees.  The team was created in March 2011 and travels the country playing able-bodied softball teams.  The WWAST is not affiliated with other charities having the words “Wounded Warrior” in their name (e.g. Wounded Warrior Project, etc.).  Since its inception, over 85% of donations have supported programs helping Wounded Warrior Amputees, amputee children, and supporting medical research. You can find more information about the WWAST at www.thewwast.org.

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SODA Public Service Note 2017 . . .SODA_Logo_New. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The 2024 Olympics: See the flashy sports park planned for the Valley !

It would host equestrian, shooting, and canoe events for the upcoming 2024 Olympics !

Bad Behavior, High Costs Contribute to Umpire Shortage !

umpireChicago, IL – When Jeff Siegel was an 18-year-old baseball umpire in Morton Grove, a coach angry with a call he made started yelling at him. Then the coach grabbed Siegel by the arms and shoved him.

Police were called to the ballfield, and the coach was arrested. The charges ultimately were dropped, and Siegel continued working as an umpire.

“He had to go to court, and that was enough for me,” Siegel said. “It made me stronger as an umpire.”

Not every umpire shakes off something like that as easily as Siegel did. Actually, most don’t. Bad behavior by coaches and parents at youth sporting events has contributed to an umpire shortage in the suburbs, which has increased officiating costs for most leagues, league officials say.

From ABNo Referees, No Games

Many youth leagues now outsource umpire jobs to regional “assigner” companies or associations, which is far more expensive than having in-house umps recruited from within the community, a common practice in the past.

Umpire costs vary depending on the age and playing level, and whether the umpires are certified by the Illinois High School Association.

While an in-house umpire might cost around $25 to $30 a game, an association or IHSA umpire is a minimum of $50 a game, said Adrian Steinberg, who managed the umpires in Lake Zurich’s baseball and softball leagues for many years.

Working as an umpire once was a popular job for high school and college students. But teens now represent a small percentage of umpires, league managers say.

“It’s a shame. These are perfect jobs for high school kids,” said Kevin O’Donnell, youth athletic coordinator for Mount Prospect Park District’s youth baseball leagues, which now use an assigner to provide umpires for the 683 kids signed up to play baseball this spring. “These are kids 16 and 17 years old who are just trying to make some money. Then you have these older gentlemen or women who really scream at them and make them feel bad about themselves. It deters them and terrifies them. How do you come back every weekend and want to do that job?”

The umpire shortage also can be attributed to higher startup costs to do the job, said Siegel, whose run-in with the coach was decades ago. Now he’s an assignment supervisor at UMPS.org, which provides 375 umpires – mostly adults – to sports leagues across the Chicago area. For certain leagues, it’s necessary to be an IHSA-certified umpire, invest $300 in your own equipment, have medical and liability insurance, and pay for training clinics, he said.

The upside of the umpire shortage is that training is improving and badly behaved coaches are more likely to be disciplined in some way.

Umpire and coaching associations are addressing the situation both from an education standpoint and by encouraging leagues to enforce rules for misbehavior.

“Historically, people sort of just let (bad behavior) go. But there is less tolerance for it now,” said Tai Duncan, executive director of the Positive Coaching Alliance in Chicago, which partners with dozens of suburban leagues for coaches training, workshops and support. “There need to be stronger penalties, but it comes down to the education part of it.”

The alliance emphasizes “honoring the game” in its programs, teaching coaches how to respectfully disagree with a call and be a positive role model for the players.

Since poorly trained umps only worsen the problem, many leagues are improving their umpire training, including lessons on conflict resolution and game management.

Bret Curlin, an umpire for 30 years who runs the Area Umpires Association in South Elgin, trained 45 umpires for this season. Six or seven one-hour sessions not only cover the rule book, but what to do when coaches or fans get unruly.

First, Curlin reminds them that they are the officials, they’re in charge of the game, and the association will have their backs 100 percent.

Curlin tells them to start out by warning a coach to cool it, or use humor to diffuse the situation. If people yell, “You’re blind!” – a common umpire critique – they might respond, “Oh, I forgot my glasses. I’ll bring them next time.”

If the disrespect continues, or gets personal, an umpire can call a timeout and have a quiet one-on-one discussion with the coach.

If the problem is with a fan, the umpire can have the coach ask that person to quiet down or go sit farther down the sideline, Curlin said. An umpire has the option to eject a coach, which is automatically reported to the league.

Curlin, who was once belly-bumped by an angry coach, reminds new umpires that any type of physical assault is a crime.

“If a guy’s giving you a hard time, you can put him back in line. And you can do it with a smile on your face and they don’t even know what hit them,” Curwin said. “You’ve gotta have thick skin.”

While this is hard for new umpires, especially young ones, he said the payoff is big – it’s a job that will build tremendous confidence and self-esteem.

“The more experience (the umpire) gets, the better he becomes. Every situation you’re going to handle early in life is going to make you better down the line.”

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It’s Never To Late – Save Your Program Money !
Check Out Our Insurance Program Today !

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Pickleball Championships Big Draw for Community !

Pickleball

Pickleball Championships Big Draw for Community !

Naples, FL – Those who know the sport, which is becoming more and more people by the day, call Naples the Pickleball Capital of the World.

The title might sound hyperbolic, even braggadocious, but the 1,300 players in town this week for the Minto U.S. Open Pickleball Championships would argue it’s accurate. Thousands of matches will be played on 48 courts at East Naples Community Park over seven days, the biggest pickleball tournament in the world.

The U.S. Open is the most visible sign that pickleball is big business in Collier County. However the roots of the quirky sport have dug deep into the community in just a short time.

People across Collier County are playing pickleball, from elementary school students to retirees. Courts are going up at YMCAs and parks. Visitors are coming to Naples just to take lessons. That’s all outside of this week’s national championships, which provide millions of dollars in economic impact.

“Although it’s a very old sport, not many people had heard of it,” Collier County commissioner Donna Fiala said.

“It just hit the area and there was an almost immediate response. People wanted to get on board. It’s given us a place on the sports map as being the home of pickleball. To me, it’s a great asset.”

Catching on quickly

If Naples is the pickleball capital of the world, East Naples Community Park is the statehouse.

When the U.S. Open picked the park as home for its inaugural event last year, the county added 30 permanent pickleball courts. A dilapidated skate park was removed to make way for the courts.

From ABAdding Pickleball to Parks and Recreation Programming

For a $25 annual membership, players can use the pickleball courts any day between 7:30 a.m. and noon. More than 1,200 people are members, and games can be found just about any time.

“We’ve got a lot of seniors and retired people who are down here full time,” said Jim Ludwig, a USA Pickleball ambassador who spearheaded the project at East Naples. “They’re looking to get healthy and stay healthy. This is a way to do that. They love the facility we built.”

The sport – which resembles tennis played with ping-pong paddles and a wiffle ball on a badminton court – caught on so much that other parks followed suit. Fleischmann Park in central Naples added permanent courts. So did Veterans Park in North Naples.

There are plans for a new county park near the Collier County Fairgrounds. Ludwig is doing his best to make sure pickleball courts are part of the discussion.

Never too young

Pickleball was invented in the 1960s and has been popular among seniors for decades. The sport doesn’t require much skill or physical power, plus there isn’t a lot of movement like in tennis, making it perfect for older people with limited mobility.

Those same qualities make it ideal for children, who still are learning coordination. Collier County Public Schools took notice, and through the help of Ludwig’s charity Pickleball For All, the district added pickleball to its physical education curriculum.

Tracy Bowen, the district’s coordinator for health and physical education, bought a temporary equipment set three years ago that she rotated among schools. Since then, two more full pickleball sets have been donated through Pickleball For All.

Pickleball is easy to learn, much easier than tennis. Young kids can control a pickleball paddle better than a tennis racket, and they can get a volley going easier.

Plus pickleball courts take up less space than tennis courts, allowing schools to have more children playing at once and reducing the time and distance it takes to retrieve errant balls.

“We want kids to be successful (at sports),” Bowen said. “Pickleball allows kids at younger ages more control over (ball) placement. They’re more successful and they want to do it more. They can play with their parents or grandparents, and they can play the rest of their lives.”

The district’s pickleball kits travel between schools, where physical education classes teach sports in two-week units. Bowen said the kits were in use all but three weeks during this academic year.

Manatee Middle School has its own pickleball equipment set, purchased by a private donor. When Manatee’s tennis court was resurfaced recently, pickleball lines were permanently painted on. Oakridge Middle School has an intramural pickleball club.

Spreading the game

East Naples Community Park doesn’t just provide a place to play pickleball. It’s also home to a new academy that teaches the sport to locals and brings in people from around the country to learn.

After winning the professional women’s singles title at last year’s U.S Open, Simone Jardim fell in love with Naples. Already bitten by the pickleball bug, she quit her job as women’s tennis coach at MichiganState and worked with tournament organizers to start the U.S. Open Pickleball Academy, based at the East Naples park.

Jardim teaches lessons every day. She said she’s had 400 students the past five months, and there’s a two- to three-week waiting list.

The academy also hosts destination camps, which combine pickleball and tourism. Athletes come down and practice for a few hours a day, then see the sights of Naples, including boat rides and fine dining.

“A lot of people like me, from out of town and cold weather, they want to get away,” Jardim said. “There are so many courts here. There are so many people from different backgrounds that get together and play. Their common theme is pickleball.”

The Naples and Bonita Springs YMCAs also offer pickleball lessons and games.

Economic impact

People who travel to Naples to attend the Pickleball Academy contribute to the millions of dollars the sport brings to Collier County each year.

Last year the U.S. Open contributed $2.5 million worth of direct economic impact – money spent at local hotels, restaurants and stores. That was with about 800 pickleballers playing over five days. This year’s tournament will feature 1,300 players from 42 states and is seven days long.

The U.S. Open is part of the county’s newest push into sports tourism. The pickleball tournament is the second-largest sporting event in Naples. The National Field Hockey Coaches Association’s recruiting showcase, which brought 2,000 athletes to town in January, is the biggest.

“(The U.S. Open) allows us to be somewhat unique in the sports marketing arena,” said Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Pickleball came at the right time. It’s a growing sport, and we’ve made a long-term commitment.”

The pickleball national championships have a contract to be in Naples through 2021. The Convention and Visitors Bureau has invested in the event to help make it successful.

This year the CVB will spent about $1 million on the tournament. About $700,00 of that is a massive shade structure covering the entire championship court at East Naples Community Park.

The CVB operates solely on money raised on Collier County’s 4-percent bed tax on short-term room rentals. Last year the tax raised $21.8 million, making the county’s investment in the U.S. Open almost 5 percent of its annual budget.

That’s on top of the money spent to upgrade East Naples Community Park and install 30 permanent pickleball courts.

“Pickleball has become a pleasant surprise, how much it’s been embraced by the community,” Wert said. “We’ve got multiple events each year, and we’ve established the Pickleball Academy. It’s a year-round function, which is why it’s good to make a long-term investment.”

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