As the sport of pickleball gains traction locally, more prospective Santa Maria players will be able to access the game with the addition of six new courts at Hagerman Sports Complex, expected to be open for use next week.
With the courts painted bright blue and the fencing and nets installed, all that remains is to complete a COVID-19 safety attestation form with the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, according to Recreation and Parks Director Alex Posada.
“Due to COVID, we will most likely not have a formal opening, more of a casual rollout, but that has yet to be determined,” Posada said.
At the front of the line ready to use the courts is Steve Nelson, USA Pickleball Association ambassador to the Santa Maria Valley, and his fellow members of the Santa Maria Pickleball Club, who together have raised $24,000 to make the courts a reality.
According to Nelson, pickleball is the perfect combination of tennis and pingpong — it’s similar to traditional tennis in structure, with a court a third of the size, and using a whiffle ball instead of a tennis ball, with a scoring process similar to table tennis.
“Anyone who plays either of those sports will be a natural at pickleball,” he said.
The club worked in partnership with the Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department as well as the People for Leisure and Youth Inc. (PLAY) on the project at 3300 Skyway Drive, with the agreement that the club would be able to reserve the courts certain days of the week. Recreation and Parks provided funding for the concrete foundation and painting, and the club was tasked with raising the $30,000 needed for interior and exterior fencing and nets.
Although the club has not quite reached its goal, members raised so much in the first three months that the department agreed to move ahead with construction as long as the club raised the remaining funds needed over the next year, Nelson said.
“The courts were started and, of course, the COVID hit, and the city funds kind of got hit hard. So that’s why we developed the partnership,” Nelson said.
Although Santa Maria also has some courts at Atkinson Park and Minami Park, the new courts will double the available play space in the city. In addition, the preexisting courts require players to bring their own nets, while the new courts have them permanently installed.
With how fast pickleball is growing in Santa Maria, Nelson is excited to see the city collaborate with the club, which is constantly gaining new members.
"I started playing in 2015 and there were only 12 or 15 of us. In 2017, we had grown to about 50 players, so the city was good enough to paint four courts for us over at Atkinson Park. Now, we're close to 100, and it’s one of the fastest growing sports in the United States," Nelson said.
Nelson hopes that in the future, the new courts will allow for more people to access pickleball through tournaments once it is safe to gather again. He also hopes to organize more youth clinics in collaboration with the Recreation and Parks Department, similar to the clinic held in September.
The pickleball club is hoping to use the courts from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Saturday, with local residents able to use the courts at all other hours. To prevent crowding, residents will have to register for available time slots on the Recreation and Parks Department webpage, Nelson said.
To make a donation toward the pickleball courts, visit www.santamariaatplay.org or contact the Recreation and Parks Department for more information at 805-925-0951, ext. 2260.
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