MOUNT VERNON — The next step for the growing sport of pickleball in Knox County may be guided by a new advocacy group. The Mount Vernon Pickleball Association is a non-profit organization that is looking to bring pickleball to a larger portion of the community.
“The 501 (3)(c) paperwork has been submitted,” explained MVPA official Wayne Uhrig. “It should go through within a week. In the meantime, we are getting preliminary estimates on the costs of court improvements before we meet with any officials or move forward.”
Improving the current playing facilities — both indoor and outdoor — is one of the top priorities for the fledgling group. The group is currently in the final stages of getting it’s application for it’s 501(c)(3) non-profit status approved.
The sport of pickleball has come a long way, since that first small group launched the sport in Mount Vernon, just a few years ago.
“We had the hardest time,” said long time area resident Bob Frost. “We came up here from Florida and we thought it was going to catch on. I used to play softball and so we talked to a lot of the old athletes. We finally got four players to play and we started. One of them got hurt and so we were down to three. Now, we have dozens of them. It’s the same way country wide. Fifteen years ago, there might have only been about a hundred and fifty thousand people (in the US) playing. Now, several million play.”
Another long time resident and pickleball stalwart, Larry Miller, was also part of that first group.
“Down in Florida, (Frost) came over to visit me,” Miller said. “I took him over to play bocce ball and he didn’t like that. Then, I took him to play shuffleboard and he didn’t like that. I was afraid to show him pickleball, because of his knees. But, I showed him that and he said, ‘Gosh, I love this.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ So, we came back here and started playing pickleball and we did everything but flag people down on Mount Vernon Avenue to get a fourth person playing.”.
One place the new group will be targeting is the pickleball facility at Riverside Park. That facility, built on the site of the old basketball courts a couple of years ago, has been a subject of concern. Players complain that the courts, which face east and west, create a disadvantage for one player, who is constantly blinded by the sun. After looking at the idea of realigning the courts to point north and south, MVPA officials have considered pursuing either one of two solutions.
“The two ideas were to add on to the pickleball courts that are already there and run them in the (north to south) direction,” Uhrig said. “The other idea is to abandon those courts and let them revert back to being basketball courts. Then, put in six new pickleball courts right behind the softball field fence. We haven’t been working on funding, yet. We have to get the 501 (c)(3) finalized. Then, we have to meet with the city council. Then, at a later date, we will look to funding for it. We would like to do that through the city.”
For now, the MVPA has not discussed anything with the city and is keeping its goals simple, with the idea of growing the sport.
“Our current goal is to get some good outdoor courts, work with the city and make courts available for youth, adults and seniors,” Uhrig said. “We still have a lot of people to talk to before we can make any definite plans.”