PANAMA CITY BEACH City Council found itself in a pickle Thursday night.
A pickle ball pickle.
Having supported a multi-million-dollar sports recreational complex that will host tournaments in soccer, softball, baseball, lacrosse and semi-pro football, Mayor Mike Thomas and his four councilmen found themselves staring quizzically at the audience packing the meeting room. Wearing vibrant colored shirts and brandishing large square paddles, the residents were there to request their fair share of the city’s sports dollar.
“We need more courts and more that are lighted” for night play, spokesman Carl Gendece told the council, as his supporters cheered lustily.
For the uninitiated – who, by his own admission Thursday evening, included Mayor Mike Thomas – pickle ball is a paddle sport that combines aspects of badminton, tennis and table tennis. It is played on an interior or exterior court about one-fourth the size of a tennis court. One or two players on each side hit the polymer ball back and forth over a net.
Originally devised as a children’s outdoor game, the sport has become vastly popular with seniors, Gendece said. Unofficial estimates are that 4 million Americans have now become pickle ball players. “There was a world
championship down in Naples that drew in 3,000 players and 15,000 observers,” Gendece said. “This sport is growing by leaps and bounds.”
The problem for Beach residents or visitors, Gendece said, is that there are only two courts at the Lyndell Senior Center on Lyndell Lane, and they lack lights for night-time play. Ad hoc pickle ball courts have also been created at Frank Brown Park on the tennis courts, but warm-weather demand for tennis has made that option untenable as well.
We have so many people who want to play this game, but presently in Panama City Beach they have no place to go.”
Council members expressed support for creating more pickle ball courts and Thomas instructed City Manager Mario Gisbert to explore options for temporary additions as well as a long-term solution.
“We will get at this,” Thomas said. “I promise.