“Pickleball players gave us money.”

That’s what one of the board members who manages the parks in Chico told a group of tennis players who attended their latest meeting.

We were there because of a rumor going around that more courts were going to be converted to pickleball. We wanted to let the powers that be know that we weren’t going to stand by idly and watch our sport be taken from us.

It seems unconscionable that a city with more than 100,000 people only has four tennis courts. No longer are the high school and college courts public.

Pickleball courts are replacing tennis courts in Chico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I won’t argue whether pickleball could use more courts. But I will argue that it should not be at the sacrifice of tennis courts.

Community Park used to have eight tennis courts. Incrementally that has decreased to four as they were converted to pickleball. Considering one is used for teaching for nine months out of the year, there are really only three tennis courts.

So many red flags went up for me in the short time we were at the meeting. Like, they favored pickleball over tennis because those people gave them money? Bribery was the first word that came to my mind. It certainly makes me want to get a hold of their financials.

Chico’s parks are run by the Chico Area Recreation District (CARD). It’s a special district with an elected board. All five members are old white men. There’s a lot of that demographic here. Not all of them looked like they even recreate. Yes, I’m being judgmental and I’m OK with that.

Until I went to the meeting I didn’t know CARD wasn’t a department, so to speak, of the city of Chico. I still have a lot to learn about my new hometown.

At the meeting we were told there are no plans for at least five years to change the tennis-pickleball court numbers.

The pro at the tennis courts said he has not been asked to give input about tennis court removal. This is absurd. Another red flag. Why try to grow the game of tennis and not have any place for these people to play?

The following is what I wrote up to read to the CARD board at the March 28 meeting. I was essentially stopped when I said I hoped I had been given wrong info. I did carry on to read the part about their master plan.

It was interesting the board and staff engaged our group in dialog. That doesn’t usually happen with non-agendized public comments. Not sure if this should be another red flag or not; did they violate protocols or the Brown Act? They did violate the Brown Act. I just don’t know if they have to follow it.

OK, here’s what I wrote, which I left with staff to be put in the public record:

Thank you for allowing me the time to speak with you today. My name is Kae Reed. I am a resident of Chico and a regular tennis player at the public courts. 

It has come to my attention the city is considering converting more tennis courts into pickleball courts. I hope I have been given bad information.

Mary Helen Sprecher, managing editor of Sports Destination Management, wrote in the National Recreation and Park Association’s magazine that, “70 percent of all tennis is played at public facilities, either free or for very little cost. And, the appeal of tennis goes across all demographic and socioeconomic groups. It is, after all, the sport for a lifetime. It can be learned in childhood — or adulthood, for that matter. It can be played by three generations and, sometimes, even more. Because of this, and because of its wide appeal, the sport aligns with NRPA’s Health and Wellness and Social Equity Pillars.”

I was 10 when I first stepped onto a tennis court in the Bay Area; much like the ones I’m playing on now as an adult in Chico. My mom signed me up for lessons. Probably much like the lessons I see being taught on the public courts here. 

I agree with Miss Sprecher – tennis is a lifetime sport. It is for me and my friends. There aren’t many sports that you can play your whole life. Why would you consider taking that away from people? 

CARD’s own five-year master plan published in 2018 and updated in 2019 says, “Tennis continues to be a popular activity in Chico. However, the growth of pickleball has put stress on the existing tennis courts. In 2015, one tennis court was converted into four pickleball courts, and another tennis court was converted in 2018. The district should explore new construction of courts in another park as not to compete with tennis.”

I’m going to read that last sentence again to you and remind you that these are your words, your recommendation what you signed off on when you approved the master plan update. It says, “The district should explore new construction of courts in another park as not to compete with tennis.”

But that isn’t what you did. Instead you took two more tennis courts away from us and gave them to pickleball.

A park that once had eight tennis courts now only has four.

Tennis is a viable sport. These courts are used year round. I know. I’m on them. Lessons are being taught March through November. People want to learn the sport.

Your own document said even with six tennis courts pickleball was encroaching on tennis. Now we have four courts; really it’s only three because one is a teaching court.

Chico is growing. So is tennis. Really. The Tennis Industry Association reports that U.S. tennis participation grew by 1 million players in 2022 with more than 23.6 million playing the sport. That was the third consecutive year that the sport has seen an increase. The numbers for 2023 have not been published.

You should be considering adding tennis courts in Chico, not eliminating them. As you go through the resurfacing process this year, seriously consider returning what you took away from us by converting pickleball courts back to tennis.

Thank you again for your time and consideration.

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