Mitchell pickleball leader eager for $400K complex that will provide six courts for fastest growing sport

Sep. 15—MITCHELL — After getting nixed from the city's budget last year, the $400,000 pickleball court complex that's proposed for Mitchell has made it in the 2024 budget.

With the rapid growth of the sport taking flight over the past few years, the project has a large group of avid pickleball players eager to have access to six designated pickleball courts at Hitchcock Park.

Bonnie Cole is among the group of local pickleball players who has been using Hitchcock Park tennis courts to play the sport she's helped grow over the past decade.

"It's just awesome. This has been a dream of mine. And it will help grow the sport even more," Cole said.

As of now, local pickleball players utilize sections of Hitchcock Park tennis courts. Although players are able to utilize the tennis courts, the line spacing and nets are not aligned to pickleball standards. Pickleball is played with paddles and a perforated ball, which reduces the speed of the game compared to other racquet sports like tennis.

The sport has become a hit in Mitchell. The Pickleball Association Cole formed a few years ago now boasts 73 members. Nationally, pickleball is just as popular. According to Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Nelson, pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the U.S.

"To go from just a few to 70-plus in such a short time is amazing. We see all walks of life and ages," Cole said. "It's a sport that 80-year-olds can play and be very good at. If you play once, it's likely you will be back to play again. It's just a really fun sport."

Since the project came into the picture in 2022, the association has raised over $110,000 for the pickleball court complex. A $195,000 state grant that was recently awarded to the Parks and Recreation Department for the project provided a big funding boost.

Initially, the proposed location of the courts was next to the existing tennis courts near the baseball field at Hitchcock Park. The new location is along the south edge of Hitchcock Park next to a service road.

"Upon talking to the tennis coach, he said, 'If we're going to build again, that's where we're going to go.' This pulls it off to the side that provides parking and gives shade," Nelson said.

The new location has the support of Cole, who said the area has "a lot of trees" to provide shade and noise barriers.

"To me, it's a better choice," she said.

Nelson explained the construction timeline is bound by a formal approval on the grant.

"Even though (the grant) came through the Game, Fish and Parks, it went through the U.S. National Parks. So they have final word to put their stamp on it," Nelson said.

Nelson anticipates the federal agency to sign off on the grant in 2024 between April and July. As soon as the grant is formally approved by the federal agency, Nelson said it would allow the project to welcome bids. Nelson anticipates the completion of the courts will be 2025.

"The funds have to be used by December 2025," Nelson said.

The addition of a pickleball court complex will also open up opportunities for Mitchell to play host for tournaments on official courts, which has been a goal of Cole.

"There are a lot of people who come to play from area towns. The demand for events is already there, we just need the space," Cole said.