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Pickleball becomes part of Juneteenth celebration

By Steve Lee


As part of a week-long celebration of Juneteenth, Pasco Parks and Recreation organizers decided to add pickleball to this year’s schedule. An introductory session took place at Wesley Chapel District Park.

A group of volunteers from the Sarah Vande Berg Foundation worked with newcomers at Wesley Chapel District Park.

Participants played indoors on six makeshift courts since there are no outdoor pickleball courts at that park.

Kim Miller, a recreation supervisor who also coaches the girls basketball team at Zephyrhills High, has organized 3-on-3 basketball tourneys in the park’s gymnasium for previous Juneteenth events. This year, the basketball portion was reduced in half to accommodate for a two-hour pickleball clinic and open play.

“These were all beginners who had very little knowledge of pickleball,” Miller said.

For the first hour, the 30 people who signed up — Miller said the age range extended from a few teens to an 80-year-old — were taught some basic fundamentals, rules of the game and about scoring. They also worked on their ground strokes and serves before randomly pairing up for open play for the second hour.

A volunteer instructor shows newcomers how to square up for a return.

Aside from the 30 who signed up, Miller reported a waiting list of 40 people with some saying, “Oh, you need to do this more.”

Nick Walton, general manager of the Sarah Vande Berg Foundation, arranged for a group of volunteer instructors to work with the newcomers. They were led by Florida Pickleball owner and head coach Shane Frenchko.

“Any chance to get more people active in a sport is amazing,” said Walton, adding that “you can play racquet sports for life.”

Walton noted that the foundation has worked with Miller and the county’s recreation department in the past and hoped to continue to do so.

Several groups line up for 3-on-3 sessions with others playing doubles.

“Events like the one (in Wesley Chapel) propel the mission of SVB Tennis Foundation forward by making racquet sports more accessible to all people,” he said. “With just a couple hours, a couple coaches and a few dedicated volunteers, we can teach the basics of tennis and/or pickleball so players can play independently moving forward.”

Considering the turnout and feedback, pickleball could become part of the county’s annual Juneteenth celebration with Miller saying, “Somebody’s already approached me about pickleball shootouts for next year.”

In the interim, Miller is searching for some dates this summer for more introductory pickleball sessions.

“We might do something around the Fourth of July,” she said. “We just have to get through summer camp. We could do it outside, depending on the availability of county facilities.”

Photo courtesy of Kim Miller

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