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Chapel Hill tennis and pickleball players debate about new shared-use plan for courts

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Chapel Hill community members playing pickleball at Ephesus Park in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, Mar. 28, 2023.

After the end of a pilot tennis and pickleball shared-use program on Friday, March 24, the Town of Chapel Hill announced a  plan to increase outdoor public pickleball courts from 11 courts to 21 courts.

During the shared-use plan, temporary pickleball lines were marked on two tennis courts at Ephesus Park. The Town gave tennis and pickleball players priority to use the courts at different times.

As part of the new plan, two of the four outdoor tennis courts at Ephesus Park will have dual lines painted on them for pickleball in the coming weeks. Dual lines have already been painted on the two outdoor basketball courts at Southern Community Park.

Atuya Cornwell, the interim Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation director, said the plan was constructed with feedback from an online survey regarding shared-use that was available to both pickleball and tennis players from July 8 to July 25, 2022.

Cornwell said he is excited about the opportunities that the shared-used program brings to the community.

“This philosophy increases the entrance and emerging sport of pickleball while still preserving space for tennis at these designated locations,” he said. 

Cornwell said the plan is consistent with what Parks and Recreation usually tries to do with community resources and limited available space.

Jen Johnson, a local USA Pickleball ambassador, said the shared-use program is more of a matter of making sure the Town's resources are used well rather than dividing tennis and pickleball.

“To me, this isn't about pickleball,” she said. “This is about where can we expand and provide more playing surfaces for any racquet sport.”

Johnson said Chapel Hill Pickleball, a local group of pickleball players, is adding between 40 and 80 new members each week. She added that she believes the growth in the sport is partially due to the fact that the sport is inexpensive and easy to learn.

However, Jerry Edwards, a member of Friends of Chapel Hill Public Tennis, said the tennis community was “appalled” and “shocked” by the Town’s announcement on Friday to move forward with shared-usage plans.

Edwards said Friends of Chapel Hill Public Tennis was organized in 2017 with the goal of preserving and improving Chapel Hill public tennis courts and facilities. 

He said the Town’s decision was made without any feedback from tennis players and came as a "blindside."

“There seems to be an initiative, whether intentional or not, to sort of take over the tennis courts and invade the tennis courts,” Edwards said.

Cornwell explained that sharing the courts does not infringe upon schools’ usage of courts, tennis programs, private rentals or camp programs.

Edwards said numerous issues arise when pickleball and tennis share the same courts, such as added noise, additional lines that can be distracting and increased foot traffic. 

Cornwell said that, as with any new experience, there is going to be a learning curve when it comes to best practices on the courts. He said he hopes to make shared usage between the two sports a positive experience by providing signage that indicates best practice recommendations.

Edwards said that although he is not trying to create a battle between pickleball and tennis, he believes that Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation has not balanced tennis interests with pickleball interests. 

He explained that the Town made decisions without talking and being honest with tennis players.

But Johnson said she believes the Town is listening to both parties fairly. 

“I think with both sports, the great opportunity is to continue to unlock the term we often like to use: 'empowerment through exposure' and 'empowerment through play,'” Cornwell said.

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@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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