Right now the site looks like an oversized sand box.
In a couple months, Dave Schollmeier, Ed Stried and their fellow Janesville Pickleball Club members hope it’ll be a place that will draw new friends to their favorite pastime.
In Riverside Park, just beyond the left-field fence of the Veteran’s Field baseball diamond, two of the park’s tennis courts have been excavated. And while weather has delayed the project a bit, the city’s pickleball players are awaiting a six-court recreational facility that will be known as the Jim Clark Memorial Pickleball Courts.
“We’re looking forward to expanding to the courts at Riverside so we can, I think, attract more players,” said Stried, secretary of the JPC. “They’d be attracted to a nice facility, comfortable surroundings. It’s very inviting, and as soon as we get someone out there to play, they’re hooked. It’s amazing how addictive and how much fun it is.”
Pickleball is a sport that typically pits two teams of two players each against each other in a hybrid of badminton, tennis and table tennis. At its most basic description, players use paddles to hit a ball that is similar to a whiffleball over a three-foot net.
The beauty of the game, players say, is that it’s easy to compete with and against players of varying skill levels, genders and age ranges.
But in Janesville, Stried and Schollmeier said, it’s hard to find a time and place to welcome such a wide variety.
The two are part of a group, typically made up mostly of retirees, that plays every weekday from 8:30 a.m. until noon at the Janesville Athletic Club, which has three designated courts at that time and the ability to offer a couple more when space allows.
Others play at the JAC beginning before they head off to work, meeting up before 6 a.m., or Sunday nights. Some play Saturday mornings or Monday afternoons outdoors on the tennis courts at Riverside Park or Craig High School.
A standard pickleball court is slightly longer and wider than half of a standard doubles tennis court.
Schollmeier said Clark, who laid the foundation about 10 years ago for the Janesville Pickleball Club with his wife, Pat, began by drawing chalk lines on the Palmer Park tennis courts. Players also used courts at Marshall Middle School for some time before they realized a persistent wind did not make for ideal conditions. And the tennis courts at Riverside aged and cracked, making them a safety hazard, Schollmeier said.
“We have more people playing indoors than outdoors, and I attribute that to, we just haven’t had good facilities,” said Schollmeier, JPC president.
And so the idea for a new pickleball facility at Riverside, which boasts amenities like bathrooms and hills to stifle the wind, was born.
“It really opens up opportunities for people of all schedules to play,” Schollmeier said. “Right now, we’re kind of limited. Most of us are retirees. But with the courts at Riverside, it’ll open up weeknights and weekends for people to play.”
The club went before the city council in November with a request to add designated pickleball courts to their capital improvement budget. At the second November meeting, the council approved the project, which was estimated to cost $115,000.
The only caveat was that the club needed to raise $30,000 from private donations by May 1, and then the city would commit the other $85,000.
“That seemed like quite a challenge to us,” Schollmeier said. “But our members, and the Clark family, really came through tremendously. In just five or six weeks, we had reached our goal of $30,000, so that meant the project went forward.”
The club, which has more than 70 members currently, got the needed $30,000 in pledges well in advance of the deadline, and with the project now underway, it is now collecting on those pledges.
Silha Excavating donated the removal of the two tennis courts, which will make way for six pickleball courts. And JNB Signs is donating signage that will recognize donors and the naming of the Jim Clark Memorial Pickleball Courts.
Clark, born and raised in Janesville and longtime high school phy ed teacher, guidance counselor and tennis coach, passed away June 20, 2013.
“The fact that we can name this court for a guy like Jim Clark is just a nice, nice touch,” Stried said. “That kind of was our rallying point to all of us who knew him.”
Clark’s legacy as someone always wanting to introduce people to a new game and to keep them active will live on.
The Janesville Pickleball Club still has hopes of playing on its new designated courts by the end of the summer.