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Game, set, match. Pickleball aces tennis out of a Wichita park

The City of Wichita is expected to turn the old tennis courts at 200 S. Seneca into pickleball courts. The courts sit across the street from Senior Services of Wichita. (May 11, 2018)
The City of Wichita is expected to turn the old tennis courts at 200 S. Seneca into pickleball courts. The courts sit across the street from Senior Services of Wichita. (May 11, 2018) The Wichita Eagle

So long tennis, hello pickleball.

That's the message City Hall is sending in one Wichita park.

With tennis on the decline and pickleball on the rise, the city is poised to replace the two tennis courts at Seneca Park with four pickleball courts. The park is south of Delano in the 200 block of Seneca.

Permission and funding are expected to come Tuesday when the City Council approves its weekly consent agenda.

Pickleball is similar to tennis but without as much running around. It's played with paddles and a plastic perforated ball on a court that's roughly half the size of a tennis court.

It's one of America's fastest-growing sports and Wichita is surfing the trend.

Last year, the city established a special tax district to generate $2.3 million to help fund development of a pickleball theme restaurant in northeast Wichita.

That project broke ground last week with a pickleball pickup game featuring Wichita State University basketball coach Greg Marshall bouncing the ball around with City Council member Pete Meitzner, developer George Laham and Chicken N Pickle restaurateur Dave Johnson.

Chicken N' Pickle has its ground breaking with the help of WSU Coach Gregg Marshall. (May 7, 2018)

Parks Director Troy Houtman said there's a lot of excitement for building public courts as well. The tennis courts at Seneca Park are perfect for conversion because they're worn out and would need new nets and restriping anyway, he said.

The city has $250,000 set aside for the project. If bids come in lower, any remaining money will be spent on renovating athletic courts at Harrison and Fairmount parks.

The rise of pickleball has come as the Baby Boomer generation ages out of playing real tennis.

"There's been a lot of interest and a lot of popularity in pickleball," Houtman said. "Right across the street (from Seneca Park) is the senior center and they're very interested in pickleball.

"It's a sport that's designed for that age group and really will get them moving, so we're excited to kind of partner with them on this. That's where the idea came from and we're going to work with them."

Tennis, meanwhile, just doesn't have the allure it once did, he said.

"Just like any sport, they peak and valley," Houtman said. "We've looked at our usages in all of our parks in regards to tennis courts. Those usages are going way down and so we'd rather spend our resources on things that are going to be used on a regular basis."

Some other city tennis courts have given way to courts for futsal, a scaled-down variant of soccer played on a hard-surface court with smaller teams and a smaller ball.

That sport, which originated in South America, has become an international phenomenon and is especially popular with foreign students at Wichita State.

"Those (futsal courts) are getting used left and right," Houtman said.

The council will vote on the pickleball conversion at the meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 555 N. Main, Wichita.

Dion Lefler; 316-268-6527, @DionKansas
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