A significant number of tennis players turned out to the Habersham County Commission’s meeting Monday night, filling the room to show their disapproval of the commission’s plan to resurface two of the tennis courts at the Ruby C. Fulbright Aquatic Center to become pickleball courts.
Last month, tennis players came out to the commission’s monthly meeting to share those same frustrations. But even after the outcry, Habersham County Parks and Recreation Director Kurt Cooper said that there were no plans to halt the resurfacing of the courts and that the county was ready to hire a design team to make the resurfacing happen.
This month, though, those players came out in even stronger numbers to voice their concerns, while some pickleball players came out to defend the plan.
A total of seven tennis players argued during public comments that resurfacing those two courts will negatively impact the tennis community, making it harder for them to find places to play.
Christopher Watson, a North Habersham Middle School teacher and community tennis player, spoke at the commission’s last meeting. This month, he provided the commission with photos of the tennis courts being full, as well as reminded the commissioners of a petition circulating to leave the tennis courts as they are.
He also called on the board of commissioners to better advertise pending decisions that would affect taxpayers, telling the board the tennis community didn’t know about the issue until the petition began circulating.
“Most county residents don’t attend these meetings, nor should you really expect that,” Waston said. “A sign at the tennis courts would have been a great place to start.”
Players shared their experiences with seeing tennis courts full of tennis players on the weekend—while pickleball players argue they rarely see those courts full of tennis players.
“I don’t understand why one sport is being pitted against the other,” local tennis player Clayton King said. “I see the same thing everybody else sees, but I must be seeing it through different eyes because I see the tennis courts filled up on Saturday and Sunday at specific times … if we were left with only two tennis courts, there are going to be people waiting to get on the tennis courts.”
The argument the two pickleball players who spoke up shared was that their options for places to play are limited in Habersham and that they should have their own place to play in the county. They say that their courts won’t negatively affect the tennis players.
Habersham County Pickleball Club spokeswoman Peggy Fortson says that in the past month, the club counted that 365 people play pickleball between the ages of 12 and 81.
“We play day and night, weekends, we’ve been playing a long time,” Fortson said. “We have never been there when the tennis courts were full, we have never been there when there were people waiting to play tennis.”
Currently, the pickleball players use portions of the tennis courts, or portions of the gymnasium at the aquatic center, to play. During basketball and volleyball season, their space and time to play in the indoor courts are greatly reduced.
Pickleball players have to set up their equipment on their makeshift courts before they can start playing, which Fortson says is a physically taxing endeavor that can take around 20 minutes with a group, but with just one or two people, can take up to an hour .
But comments weren’t an us-versus-them argument, some tennis players say that they’d be willing to fundraise, or even see a tax increase, to make sure the pickleball players got a complex of their own to use.
“I am in support of the addition of a new pickleball complex to meet the needs of Ms. Fortson’s group,” tennis player Paula Wonders said, who plays regularly with her family. “But I do not support the loss of two tennis courts to offer a less expensive option to the pickleballer’s original proposal.”
The original proposal, which was shared with some tennis players and the commissioners, was to build a separate court area for pickleball. Land resources and costs proved to be a challenge, however, and at some point, the commission chose to change that plan to resurfacing two of the tennis courts.
Putting paving on hold
After hearing remarks from citizens once again, the commissioners decided to hold off on voting on the court resurfacing for another month so that they could look into all their options to potentially find a solution that works better for Pickleball and tennis.
The commissioners discussed speaking with the board of education to open up their tennis courts for taxpayers, looking into additional funding sources to build a complex and working with the City of Cornelia to give tennis players an idea of when the tennis courts there would be updated.
“I am fully on board with doing the pickleball courts, however, I would like us to take one more month to look into all of these things we just discussed,” Commissioner Dustin Mealor said. “I would like to make a motion to table this for one month, and then we need to make a decision. We don’t need to keep kicking the can [down the road].”
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The county has 60 days before the bid for the tennis court resurfacing expires.
Reactions from tennis and pickleball players
After the commissioners’ decision, tennis players are feeling hopeful that they may have a chance to save their two courts.
“The decision that was made is actually what we [tennis players] were hoping for,” Wonders told Now Habersham. “We really weren’t even sure we could get through to them [the commissioners]I really do believe they were intending to make a decision tonight … but now they can look at it through our eyes.”
But pickleball players aren’t feeling the same kind of hope.
“I’m trying to be optimistic as opposed to very disappointed,” Fortson said. “I’m hoping that the commissioners are just doing their due diligence.”
Forston says there are a lot of places in the county for tennis players to play, from courts in other municipalities but for pickleball players, they’re limited to the tennis courts at the aquatic center. As taxpayers, she says, pickleball players also deserve to have a court that they don’t have to set up.
“We’re taxpayers, but we fund the ability for us to play pickleball,” Fortson said.
Wonders, as well as other tennis players, says they would be happy to fundraise for new pickleball courts. Fortson isn’t convinced that will happen.
“They’ll be glad to give taxpayer dollars to go towards that, for them to fund it, raise money for it—show me that,” Fortson said. “Everybody has said ‘well, we’ll give you the money.’ Okay, give us the money, and we’ll give it to the county.”
Fortson isn’t against the idea of adding a complex, but she isn’t sure that it’s feasible even if they do get the money. She says that due to the weather, and that courts can only be surfaced when the weather is 70 degrees or above, the construction process would have had to begin months ago to get a complex built.
She says she hopes tennis and pickleball can work together in the future to make that happen, but right now, she hopes the local need for pickleball courts can be met.