COLORADO SPRINGS AREA PICKLEBALL HISTORY as of 2019
"Thank you Bob Holman for keeping records and writing up this wonderful history of Pickleball's start in Colorado Springs!"
PREFACE: This is a story about a local sport with meager beginnings which grew to a well-organized, fast growing organization, totally supported by volunteers. Pickleball provides great health benefits to players of all ages and skill levels. Our organization sponsors major tournaments that attract visiting players from all over North America.
THE EARLY DAYS : In 2003, Keith Bisel, a USAPA roving Ambassador, put a notice in the newspaper to come to Monument Valley Park (MVP) to learn pickleball. A handful of prospects (Steve and Ramona Boone, Sue Jackson, John Foss, and Norm Silver) showed up, started playing every Saturday and chalking the lines. Eventually CoS Parks, Recreation & Cultural Services (PR&CS) approved permanent pickleball lines for 5 courts, painted by a group of dedicated players. By 2011 there were 75 players on the email list kept by Val Olsen, which was later turned over to Bob Holman. In 2011 and 2012 Steve and Ramona Boone gave free pickleball lessons at noon every Saturday from June through August to highlight the game. At this point we also came to realize that we needed to raise money to create a dedicated pickleball venue, and the easiest way to do that was to have tournaments. The next step would be to form a club, which would organize the volunteers and run the tournaments.
FROM RAGTAG TO RECOGNITION: In early March, 2012, Jeff Norton and Bob Holman were partnering on the far NE corner of the then “pot-holed” 90+ year-old asphalt MVP courts. Jeff stepped back for a shot, and fell backwards into a depression in the court. That did it! A call to the Principal Planner, Chris Lieber at Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services (R&CS) resulted in a meeting with Jeff and Bob, where they learned what must happen to get court-repair action--a brief presentation to the monthly PR&CS Board meeting, demonstrating our needs and most importantly how we could help fund this effort. If approved by their Board, we could then earn a formal spot on their next monthly agenda. PR&CS had many competing interests and few on the PR&CS Advisory Board knew about pickleball. We shared a startling 30 day, MVP court usage survey, showing that for every one tennis player there were ten pickleballers (30 tennis players vs. 310 pickleball players during the month of May). In contrast, 30 years ago, there was always a waiting line of tennis players at MVP.
Our 2012 presentation by Charlie Rush to the PR&CS Advisory Board included these benefits to the city: improved MVP security (Pickleball player presence was reducing the vagrant/gang/graffiti factor); all-inclusive (all-age, all skill-level) and social activity; a "Life Sport"--if you can walk, you can play, a natural racket sport evolution for seniors; a natural entry-level racket sport for youth (small racket, big ball); a FUN aerobic exercise for a healthy lifestyle; tournament potential to enhance economic vitality of Colorado Springs; and a self-sustaining partnership with the City using tournament revenue for court development and maintenance.
This presentation was well received by the Board and they suggested that both tennis and pickleball groups meet with staff and discuss needs, maintenance requirements for pickleball courts, possible new courts for new activities, and to work on developing a relationship. In response, Jeff Norton, Charlie Rush, and Nancy Steffy met at PR&CS with Chris Lieber and executives from the Tennis Association. The purpose: to lay out the next steps in a partnership with our clubs to help grow the sport of pickleball in the City. A good spirit of compromise and coordination was established. The recommendations were to create a Friends-type group, seek financial support, create a budget, and develop more specific plans prior to coming back to the Board.
The Gazette featured us on the front page in January, 2012 with a photo showing a dozen of us pickleballers shoveling off 18" of snow at MVP. Other Gazette articles that year included these headlines: “PICKLEBALL PLAYERS TOLD TO RAISE CASH FOR COURTS” and “OLDER ATHLETES RELISH IN SPORT”.
FROM RECOGNITION TO ORGANIZING: In 2012 the Pikes Peak Pickleball Club was formed. See our current PPPA Org Chart. Bylaws were adopted by the members. Dues were set at $20. New T-shirts with a logo designed by our retired Navy Seal, Andy Vittitoe, proclaims, "COLORADO SPRINGS PICKLEBALL HAS ALTITUDE!" Friends of Pikes Peak Pickleball was subsequently established as a 501 (c) (3) to raise money, tax free. The first year's dues were seed money for the forthcoming tournament, a 2-day proof of concept, nationally advertised pickleball tournament in September, 2012. It was a great success, and the first ever sanctioned tournament in Colorado. Also, we gave over 150 new player lessons in 2012. In November, 2012, we proudly briefed the PR&CS Advisory Board and presented them with a check for $500. Succeeding tournaments produced checks to PR&CS of $1,000 in 2013, and $500 in 2014. In 2014, we also gave $650 to Friends of Monument Valley Park.
FROM SEMI-PRO TO PRO: After several years of rapid growth and several successful tournaments, we were now actively supported by the Pikes Peak Community Tennis Association, the Friends of Monument Valley Park, and Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services (PR&CS). In 2013, thanks to the persistent efforts of Vice President Jeff Norton, PR&CS sponsored a community outreach process involving comments and a public meeting with residents and businesses within a mile of Monument Valley Park. Based on the overwhelming support for pickleball at that community meeting and a commitment from the Great Plains Regional Co-directors, Steve and Ramona Boone, to host the Inaugural 2015 USAPA Great Plains Regional Pickleball Tournament in Colorado Springs given an adequate number of courts, the Parks & Rec Advisory Board approved fully converting the 5 old dual-use asphalt tennis courts into a 13-court dedicated MVP pickleball venue. The conversion was finished in 2014 in time to support the 3rd Annual Pikes Peak or Bust Tournament. Also in 2014, we changed the name of our club to Pikes Peak Pickleball Association (PPPA) which now had some 400 members, an elected Board, a professional looking website, and 15 (note: 26 in 2017) very active committees: Visit our site's Who is Who page to view current board and committee members. The added number of courts was also a welcome addition to advancing the Sport of pickleball in Colorado Springs. Based on a 30-day direct survey, we averaged over 70 players per day, playing about 2.3 hours each (the most intensive use of any PR&CS facility in the city). That same year, the 10-year Parks Masterplan update took place and several community meetings were well supported by our PPPA members. Their numerous inputs helped ensure that pickleball facility improvements were prominently included in the Plan approved by City Council in late 2014, and specifically that a more permanent and cost-effective post-tension concrete court solution for the MVP courts could be considered and funded by the City in the future.
FROM ASPHALT TO CONCRETE: From 2012 through 2015, PR&CS had been spending approximately about $33,000 a year to repair the 90+ year old asphalt courts from the damage incurred each winter from the freeze-thaw cycles that propagated numerous cracks and mini “pot-holes” in the court playing surfaces. The problem was made even worse by the fact that the original MVP courts were built on expansive soils which promoted surface cracking every year in spite of the expensive annual repairs. So with the 10-year “pickleball friendly” Parks Masterplan approved by City Council, PPPA in early 2015 proposed to the Parks & Rec Advisory Board that a 15-court post-tension concrete “50-year” low/no maintenance solution be pursed for the MVP pickleball venue. The Parks & Recreation Advisory Board unanimously approved the 15-court proposal with a planned budget of $350,000. Accordingly, PR&CS in 2015 included $100,000 in the City’s proposed 2016 budget. Jeff Norton submitted an application to the City Council Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax (LART) Committee requesting another $25,000 in capital improvement for the upgrade which was fully supported by the Committee and also included in the City’s proposed 2016 budget.
In 2015 and 2016, the marvelous Fundraising and Grant Writing talents of Alia Rieker and Gayle Humm were unleashed. PPPA provided $81,000 from private and business donations and its cash reserves to the upgrade cause and received another $115,000 in grants from Lyda Hill Holdings and the El Pomar Foundation. This resulted in $321,000 in available 2016 funding for the upgrade.
Based on this funding response, PR&CS began the contracting process for the court upgrade of MVP. However, a soils analysis indicated that the expansive soils problem at MVP was more significant than originally understood requiring removal of the bad soil down to 3 feet across the entire 15-court footprint and replacement with road grade material to ensure a properly engineered post-tension concrete solution. The added cost of removing and replacing the bad expansive soil added significant cost to the
upgrade; however, an “anonymous donor” came to the rescue to make up the difference and close the deal. Based on competitive bids managed by PR&CS and supported by PPPA, the City awarded a separate contract for the soil removal and replacement and another contract for the technical work to install the post-tension concrete courts. The winning technical contractor, Sport Court of the Rockies, installed the post-tension concrete as well as fencing, flag pole, sidewalks, landscaping, administrative area, surface coatings, line striping and pickleball posts and nets for the 15 courts. Included in the bid price was the USAPA-recommended best practice of including a vapor barrier under the concrete slab to eliminate any subsurface moisture from wicking into the concrete during the winter freeze-thaw cycles as well as adding subsurface crack mitigation technology to prevent any cracking if it were to occur from crossing into the playing surfaces of the 15 courts. The resulting final engineered MVP upgrade was completed in time to support the 2016 2nd Annual Great Plains Regional Tournament with 342 players attending from 25 States, Canada, and Mexico. This court upgrade will provide a maintenance-free world-class venue for many years to come.
A MATURE, THRIVING and DYNAMIC ORGANIZATION
PPPA issued a “2019 Accomplishments” end-of-year report, from which most of the following was extracted.
Membership: As of October, 2019 there are 1098 members. The age range is 8 to 89, once again proving that pickleball is for everyone. A new member orientation, held monthly at MVP has proven valuable. About 15-25 attended each session.
PPPA Website: One of our most significant Member-oriented achievements in 2017 was the new PPPA website developed and implemented by our Communications Committee under the outstanding leadership of Brian Jennison. His team upgraded our PikesPeakPickleball.com site into an interactive state-of-the-art platform with functionality that allows on-line membership applications/renewals, member polling/voting, education and training activities schedule postings, member feedback forum, recognition and advertising linkage to our generous corporate sponsors, and many more helpful user-friendly features. Brian, after many years of dedicated service, will be stepping back and training his yet unknown replacement. We now have the ability to “Blast” by mail, weekly program information to our members on events, education and training opportunities, and PPPA social activities. Installation of Lights at MVP will tentatively begin around the end of April, 2020. There will be 8 light poles installed outside the perimeter of the MVP courts that will provide LED lighting for all 15 courts. The lights are being funded by public funds due to the passage of Ballot Measure 2B. Contributions made prior to the ballot measure vote have either been returned to the donor or applied to other projects. We requested lights for the parking lot and pathway leading to the courts. Park & Rec is looking for funds within their budget to accomplish that. MVP bathrooms. In late summer of 2020, there will be upgrades to the bathrooms including new stainless-steel toilets with stall partitions, new paint and possible replacement of sinks/countertops. They may also install gates to close off the front alcove for additional nighttime security. Education & Training Activities led by Sherry Fairchild, PPA Education and Training Director oversaw the following opportunities.
Free Beginner Lessons were held at Wasson High School on a weekly basis, April through September. The 20 PPPA member instructors trained 375 new and 187 second time players including 13 minors.
Guided Play was held at MVP weekly May-September. This program is designed to support newer players in further developing their PB skills including serves, returns, lobs, strategies, and overall play. 11 PPPA member instructors provided instruction for a total of 600 student hours.
Outreach Committee promoted our sport to the Boys & Girls Club, an Alzheimers fund-raising tournament, and the ARISE Beyond Barriers program.
Round Robin Play was held at MVP during the entire year to support competitive skill level play for 2.0-3.5 skill levels.
Ladder Play, enjoyed year-round by 78 members was another great competitive skills development success in 2019 consisting of 2 ladder leagues for 2.0-2.5 and 3.5-4.0 skill level players.
Skills & Drills led by Steve Riding offered skills/drills to 112 members May-June for levels, 3.0, 3.5, and 4.0.
Tournaments: The Pikes Peak or Bust tournament with 200 players was managed by Alia Rieker and Steve Ridings. The 2019 Great Plains Regional Tournament managed by Steve and Ramona Boone was the biggest yet in the past four years. PPPA and GPR NP hosted 473 participants from 23 states, Mexico and Canada. The Rocky Mountain State Games Tournament 2019 was run by an outside company.
Referee Management: Bob Paulson, assisted by Alia Rieker continues to be the best referee coordinator ever. Also Bob traveled to other Colorado cities to give clinics to aspiring refs. In 2019 we provided referees for about 1,000 matches. Bob is stepping back and Alia will be an excellent replacement for him.
EXPANSION BEYOND MONUMENT VALLEY PARK: See our site's Where To Play page for other pickleball sites, both indoors and outdoors.
John Venezia Community Park: The 4 new dedicated post-tension concrete lighted PB courts are getting plenty of use. We will continue to advocate converting tennis court #1 into 4 pickleball courts for which PPPA funding has been reserved. A 62 day usage survey showed that pickleball has 40% of the courts and 60% of the players while tennis has 60% of the courts and 40% of the players.
Bear Creek Regional Park (BCRP): Jeff Norton and Joe Johnson secured a grant of $20,000 from the El Pomar Foundation to support another major new pickleball venue at the southwest side of Colorado Springs. A team consisting of Jeff Norton, Director of Special Projects Jim McMahon, geo-tech specialist and PPPA member Tom Lewis and our then Vice-President Peter Fleming in partnership with El Paso County defined a technical and cost-sharing approach that will deliver 12-14 new Bear Creek Regional Park (BRCP) courts. Overall funding was secured, a competitive request for proposal was issued by the County and four contractor team proposals were received. Representing the interests of PPPA, Jeff and Jim took part in the County’s technical and cost proposal evaluations and upcoming contract award expected August 1, 2020.