WHEELING – Improvements to Wheeling’s outdoor recreational facilities are being considered a priority as city leaders look to long-term goals for their Parks and Recreation Department.
In recent years, the city has made great strides in planning and improving a number of playgrounds, neighborhood parks, and community dog parks throughout the Friendly City, and new projects in these categories continue to move forward. However, there is a growing call for action to improve existing baseball and softball fields in Wheeling and provide housing for the popular recreational sport of pickleball.
City leaders have made suggestions about Wheeling’s need for better facilities for these sports. During the recent Wheeling City Council meeting, officials invited members of the community to publicly present their proposals to city leaders.
The sport of pickleball was brought to town about 14 years ago and has grown in popularity ever since. Although participants in social sports often play on repurposed tennis courts, many have called for the creation of dedicated pickleball courts to better serve those who have come to love the sport.
“Pickleball is growing rapidly and is the fastest growing sport in America,” said Gregg Boury, who represented a group of pickleball enthusiasts present during last week’s council meeting.
High-profile athletes like Tom Brady and LeBron James and others are making big investments in pickleball, Boury noted. Former tennis players and other athletes have helped increase interest in the sport, and many have gone on to become world-class players. But Boury said one of the best things about pickleball at the amateur and neighborhood levels is the fact that almost anyone can play in healthy competition or just for fun.
“Pickleball is playable for almost all age groups – in fact, the No. 1 female player in the world is 15 years old,” Boury said. “The game is extremely inclusive and is played by non-athletes, teams, families and those with physical disabilities, as well as people from different cultures and backgrounds, as well as seniors who may no longer be able to enjoy their former sport choices.”
Boury noted that there aren’t many things that can stop those who want to play pickleball from doing so.
“There are few barriers to playing this game…except in Wheeling,” he said, noting that Wellsburg, Moundsville, St. Clairsville, Barnesville, Cambridge and other communities have caught the craze and installed multiple pickleball courts for use from their residents. “Wheeling has zero dedicated seats. Pickleball lines on a tennis court don’t count.”
Boury said unused tennis courts throughout the community are an obvious choice for establishing new, dedicated pickleball courts.
“My wish would be a complex with four dedicated lighted plazas,” Boury said. “Wherever pickleball courts end up in Wheeling, there will still be plenty of public tennis courts.”
Warwood Redbirds baseball and softball association President Brian Gaus and Treasurer Ryan Storm also advocated for greener pastures on the city’s ballfields. Gaus said Rochelle Barry, director of Wheeling Parks and Recreation, reached out to her in April along with other baseball associations in the city about her wants and needs. City Council members have also worked to gather suggestions on how best to improve the city’s ball fields.
Garden Park has drainage issues, resulting in an “undulating” surface filled with depressions in the infield that pose hazards. Shelters are open with no shade or shelter, and some fences are damaged. on the 24thth Street Facility at Warwood, infields on both ball fields also have drainage issues. Officials said ball field facilities across the city are also experiencing similar problems.
Baseball associations are making voluntary efforts and investments to help maintain the facilities, but additional help and financial contributions from the city could go a long way, Gaus said.
“We have board members, just like any other organization, who invest a lot of time trying to make this right for the youth of our community,” Gaus said. “We dig ditches, we work to get water from the fields ourselves and we try to do our best, but we’re husbands and fathers, we have careers and things like that.”
City leaders indicated that ball fields across the city need to be evaluated, a list of priority improvements sought, and estimates for those upgrades reviewed.
“It’s something I’m passionate about,” said Vice Mayor Chad Thalman. “I firmly believe that we should invest in it. I think we owe it to the families and youth of the community to keep these fields in good condition and updated.”
Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum, Chair of the City Council’s Health and Recreation Committee, noted that a long-term plan for the Parks and Recreation Department was being discussed and could help the city stay ahead of such needs.
“I think our department is doing the best it can with the tools available,” Ketchum said. “But I also believe that our department is underserved if it doesn’t have a master plan.
“I think that while participating in a master planning process will cost us some money, I believe it will be valuable to move forward — not just for Pickleball, but also in talks about the Nelson Jordan Center, which is our only city community center.” . Having a plan or process for that makes all the sense in the world, I think.”