Lee County, North Carolina: Introducing Pickleball to Schools

See accompanying photos at pickleballcentral.com

We were contacted by USAPA Ambassador Cindy Clodfelter to share an exciting story about her success bringing pickleball to Lee County schools in NC. This was done with the help of Tramway Elementary teacher Cara Langston, additional ambassadors and supporters of the USAPA including PickleballCentral.

If you’re curious about how pickleball has been brought to schools and other communities, the following interview provided by Cindy will be of great interest and show how the entire pickleball community can help rally behind a great cause. Enjoy!


How did you end up helping Lee County with their pickleball program? 

I was contacted by Joe Borelli with the USAPA to present pickleball at the NCAAHPERD (North Carolina Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Dance, and Sport Management) Convention. He also contacted Cara Langston to help me with the presentation. I didn’t know Cara at the time but enjoyed working with her. We were given 50 minute time slot and spent some time planning together by email/phone.

There were 80 participants who attended our presentation at the convention, which was held at the Benton Convention Center in Winston Salem, NC. Most were PE teachers from the state public schools and colleges. Several were already avid pickleball players themselves. Many said they tended to introduce pickleball at their schools near the end of the year, because once their students played, they didn’t want to go switch to any other game!

What sort of support did you receive? 

I contacted the USAPA, PickleballCentral, Onix, TOPP and Engage for support in bringing pickleball to Lee County.

Bynum Tuttle from Onix presented me with a special program called the Onix Give Back Program which included special prices on nets, paddles and balls. He also gave the school 8 paddles and balls to get started. PickleballCentral gave me discount cards and bags for participants. TOPP Pickleball gave me a demo paddle for students to use.

I applied for a USAPA grant and was provided $350 which I used to purchase 2 net systems and 8 PickleballCentral paddles.

What’s it like being a USAPA ambassador and what was the process like for bringing pickleball to these schools? 

As an ambassador for the USAPA, I made a commitment to grow the sport of pickleball for people of all ages. I was part of NCAAHPERD for 30 years myself and am a retired member now. I was a Nationally Board Certified Physical Educator during my career, so I’m very passionate about PE and pickleball.

I currently play pickleball, teach beginners how to get into the game and participate in ambassador meetings and events.

As a member of the USAPA, I stay informed of the growth of the sport. All ambassadors have the same grant info provided on the USAPA website. An ambassador is the only person who can write a USAPA grant. To become an ambassador, one must be a member of USAPA and complete an application to be appointed. Schools can contact local ambassadors for help, as the USAPA offers both school and recreation grants. I often help with program and court development.

Cara Langston is a player too and knows the value of the game. She’s an accomplished PE teacher who has a desire to help her students be more fit and and live well. Her middle school already had a program in place and she had a goal of getting her students playing in addition to sharing her equipment with Southern Lee High so kids in Lee County could learn the game throughout high school.

When I was teacher, I wrote grants for my students because I didn’t have a budget to get equipment. Grants take some work, but you must want to make a difference in the lives of students and your community.

What is your general advice for picklers looking to start programs like this and what do you enjoy most about the process? 

There is often money for bright ideas, but you have to apply to get it and show the data to prove the impact in your teaching.

Don’t be afraid to ask companies for support—all they can say is no, and many don’t mind helping!

Cara’s students were awesome. They had fun and seemed excited about learning more about game. I called on fellow ambassadors from my area and players in Lee County to help me teach.   Other ambassadors are always willing to help, and in this case it was Gael Hogan from Sandford, NC who supporting me in the walkthrough at Tramway.

Pickleball is addictive and the fastest growing sport in the country. It’s often more than a sport, but a way of life. I’m always grateful for the friends I have met playing this game. My “pickleball family,” as I call them, mean the world to me.

Lee County School System was very proud of Cara and her willingness to better educate her students. Cara will work with Vickie Wilkins from Southern Lee to develop lesson plans for the game. Vickie is a tennis coach at Southern Lee High—and it’s a good indoor tennis practice activity. I am reminded of pickleball pro Stephanie Lane who was first introduced to pickleball from her tennis coach.

I’m always open to helping schools have better PE activities. It’s hard not to like pickleball and it’s great that you don’t even need to be an athlete to give it a go.

Cindy Clodfelter

USAPA Ambassador – Archdale, NC


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