By Jadyn Watson-Fisher Times Recordjwatsonfisher@swtimes.com
Apr 14, 2019 at 12:05 AM
Fort Smith is in a bit of a pickle as it determines how to handle the local pickleball club’s need for facilities and its thriving tennis center.
Debby Thomas spoke at the April 2 town hall to promote awareness of the sport. She told the Board of Directors four pickleball courts can be fit onto one tennis court, and the club wants a place to play as it is outgrowing the private location being utilized.
“We don’t want to do any painting or anything,” Thomas said. “We would like to have access to some of the tennis courts.”
The club has temporary nets, paddles and wants the authorization to use “temporary” lines, Thomas said.
“We are in the beginning stages of pickleball here in Fort Smith, and we want to get off on the right foot,” Thomas said, noting the hope to get grants for a pickleball facility in the future and introducing the sport to school children.
Leslie Jackson, junior team tennis coordinator for the Western Arkansas Tennis Association, oversees the activities and services at the Creekmore Tennis Center. She said the organization is opposed to allowing pickleball to paint lines on the court.
“Pickleball didn’t mention wanting to play at Creekmore, but they have approached the city wanting to paint permanent lines on the city courts,” Jackson told the board.
According to the minutes from the March 13 Parks and Recreation Committee meeting, Thomas asked for the opportunity to put lines on existing courts at Creekmore. The minutes don’t indicate whether they would be permanent.
Jackson said the tennis center can only hold United States Tennis Association sanctioned events if the courts are painted solely for tennis. If lines weren’t painted on all of the courts, the center would be ineligible to bid on certain tournaments which require a certain number of tennis-only courts.
She asked if it would be better for the city to incorporate a second sport into a “thriving” tennis center or allow the tennis association to continue serve players and help the pickleball group to develop their own courts.
Jackson said the tennis association fundraised and applied for grants to get where it is today. If the pickleball is growing the way Thomas says, Jackson believes the club should have no problem raising money to have its own facility.
“We support pickleball and thinks it should come to Fort Smith just not on the courts at Creekmore or Tilles,” Jackson said.
This issue was brought up Wednesday at the April parks commission meeting when the board received an update on a recent tennis center tournament.
The commission has tabled the conversation until next month when the entire board can be in attendance. Chairman Casey Millspaugh was unable to attend the March and April meetings.