Pickleball courts construction underway at Lewis Park

Mark DeLap/PC Record-Times Paul Gallegos prepares to return a volley at the 2021 Ground Breaking Pickleball Tournament held at the old Wheatland junior high Aug. 7.

WHEATLAND – Pickleball is expanding in Platte County and players are getting the opportunity to take their game to the streets. Or, in this case, Lewis Park.

A Pickleball AARP Groundbreaking Tourney Kickoff was held Aug. 6 at the Lewis Park bandshell where a potluck and finger food event were held in preparation for the actual groundbreaking for two new pickleball courts that will be located just east of the restrooms.

This area was formerly used for horseshoe competitions. The night was also used to register teams for the 2021 Ground Breaking Pickleball Tournament which was held Aug. 7 at the old Wheatland Junior High.

Saturday brought out 17 participants, some who came to participate from as far away as Colorado.

“We had a round Robbin format and everyone is playing everyone,” said tournament organizer Paul Gallegos. “Time limits games to 11 and win by one. Everyone was guaranteed eight games.”

One of organizers of the new construction for the new outdoor pickleball courts is former Wheatland resident Jamie Schindler.

“We all started playing pickleball down here because of Coach Gallegos.” Schindler said. “He was the one that brought it to town. The group grew from two courts to three courts and pretty soon we had 80 people, all ages from 20 years old to 80-year-olds.”

The group tried to play outside during the summer at the park on the tennis courts, but the surface was not pickleball friendly and the vision promoted a challenge to establish some outdoor pickleball facilities.

“It was a dream at that point, and one day I was reading the Platte County Record-Times and in there was a story about a grant opportunity from AARP,” Schindler said. “It was called livable communities grant and they award it to all 50 states every year.”

When Schindler saw the article, the deadline for application had already passed so he conversed with the people on the town council and asked if it would be possible to apply for the grant the following year.

“They agreed to applying for the grant and also agreed to commit some money from Wyoming Community Gas,” Schindler said. “$10k was committed from WCG and we applied for the grant right before I moved out of town.”

Schindler, a former Wheatland resident has since relocated to Colorado.

“I told Candy (Wright) that if we got the grant, that I would come back and help them because I didn’t want to leave them hanging,” Schindler said. “But anyway, we did get the grant and that grant was for $28K which is actually pretty significant.”

The AARP grant is usually for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1-30K, but only award two or three in that $30K range according to Schindler.

“I attribute that amount we got to Candy Wright and her grant writing abilities,” Schindler said. “We gave her raw material and she put it all together and made it professional, so kudos goes to Candy for that.”

Schindler doesn’t know the total price tag for the new pickleball courts, but estimates that the figure will be somewhere around $50K. The additional monies will come from the city budget and from fundraisers such as the tournament that was held Saturday.

“We’ve got to be done by Nov. 10,” Schindler said. “I’ve got to have 28-day cure time on concrete so that is going to put me into early September to surface the courts and build a fence. That’s going to be done through volunteer labor with those in the pickleball league and some recent retirees from the power plant.”

There is nothing official about the pickleball group in Platte County, according to Schindler. It’s just a grassroots gang of pickleball enthusiasts who are excited about having fun and staying healthy.

The 2021 Groundbreaking Pickleball Tournament raised somewhere around $1250 Saturday and according to Schindler, 100% of the proceeds were going to the town of Wheatland.

According to USA Pickleball, “Pickleball has a very interesting name, especially since no pickles are used. Accounts of how the name originated differ.

1. According to Joel Pritchard’s wife (Joan), she started calling the game pickleball because “the combination of different sports reminded me of the pickle boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.”

2. According to Barney McCallum, the game was officially named after the Pritchards’ dog Pickles, who would chase the ball and run off with it. According to McCallum, “The Pritchards had a dog named Pickles, and you’re having fun at a party, right? So anyways, what the hell, let’s just call it pickleball.”

Others claim both accounts may actually be true. In the early years, no official name was assigned to the game. However, a year or two after the game was invented, the Pritchards purchased a cocker spaniel and named it Pickles. As the game progressed, an official name was needed and “pickleball” was it.

Also, according to USA Pickleball, it is the 55-year-old game is the fastest growing sport in the country with the number of participants up 100% in the past two years to 3.5 million players.

It has come to Platte County and it is growing.

According to the Platte County Parks and recreation director, Steve Pollock the sport of pickleball started in Wheatland about a year ago.

“It’s become very popular,” Pollock said. “Especially with older active adults. Paul Gallegos actually got us started. He came to me and it just sort of evolved from there.”

The Parks and Rec department does not have actual leagues, but according to Pollock, it’s just drop in and come and play. They have all the equipment so it makes it easy to just show up. Right now, the pickleball play is taking place from 12-2 on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a novice group is also meeting on Wednesdays.

“We started a beginner’s class on Wednesdays from noon until 2 p.m.,” Pollock said. “That’s just for people to avoid the intimidation of playing with people that have played for a while. There’s no cost to come and play. We played outside in the summer down at the bandshell, but indoors we are here at the old junior high gym.”

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