Local Pickleball Community is Stepping Up by Organizing itself into a Nonprofit, Pursuing Covered Courts and More

Founders Courts courtesy of Bainbridge Island Pickleball, BIPRD - Battle Point ParkBainbridge, of course, is the home of Pickleball, and the sport is exploding all over the world. Celebrities are playing it on a regular basis, there’s a pro circuit well underway, and it’s even mentioned on television sit-coms and variety shows. Not surprisingly, the sport is blossoming on the island. More than 400 people receive regular emails from Bainbridge Island Pickleball (BIPB), and local courts – both indoor and outdoor (weather-permitting) are usually packed, with waiting lists.

BIPB, the name of the loosely structured local Pickleball community, recently held its annual meeting at the Grow Community Center and dinked around with a bunch of new initiatives.  Some 62 people physically attended the meeting, while another 38 showed up via zoom for a total of 100 participants – demonstrating the strength and enthusiasm of our home-grown PBers.

Founders Tournament commemorative paddleClay Roberts, known in many quarters on the island as Mr. Pickleball, and the man perhaps most responsible for establishing Bainbridge’s Founders Courts, as well as taking the lead on many PB efforts, opened the meeting by reviewing BIPB’s major accomplishments in 2023. These included:

  • Creating a new steering committee, name BIPD, and subsequent mission statement
  • Raising $127,105 in pledges for the renovation of the lower courts
  • Creating a new website for BIPB
  • Coming up with a new logo and new hats, and shirts with sales of $12,000
  • Successful open play and new QR code system for the very popular Friday game day
  • Producing in concert with the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum another successful Founders Tournament with 350+ participants, 100+ volunteers and $10,000+ for parks and Pickleball
  • Play host to the International Pickleball Federation to discuss the launching of the Bainbridge Cup on BI in 2025

The attendees were also made aware that BIPB has purchased “four new quality nets,” Roberts noted. “The nets should arrive by spring and improve the quality of play on the shared courts, while we wait for the completion of the new tennis courts at Sakai Park.”

Renovation of the Shared Courts at Battle Point

Roberts shared a rendering and details about plans to convert the former tennis courts at Battle Point Park to six individually fenced and designated Pickleball courts. The Parks Board approved the project at its December 16th meeting.

Part of the transformation of the old tennis courts will include improvements to the area surrounding the courts, Roberts said.  The cost of the renovation is $80,000, with all costs coming from fundraising done by BIPB. “The goal is to complete the project within the 2024 calendar year,” he added.

Those in attendance voted unanimously to move ahead with the project as soon as possible.

New Organizational Structure Proposed

Avid player and BIPB steering committee member Steve Jensen then laid out the wherefores and whys of turning BIPB into a 501c3 nonprofit organization. He described what a 501c3 is, and the pros and cons of moving in that direction. The pros include more flexibility and control over contributions, the ability to apply for grants, and avoiding management fees, he said. The cons include the initial cost of establishing a non-profit status, ongoing reporting requirements and some tax implications. Jensen indicated that it may take several months to get final approval from both the state and federal government to move forward with the idea

Following a question-and-answer session, those in attendance overwhelmingly voted to proceed with BIPB becoming a 501c3.

Covered Courts

Later, Melissa Bang Knudsen led a discussion around four key decisions that must be considered as BIPB moves forward in developing covered courts. The four decisions are:

  • What kind of structure does the group want, covered and open air, partially enclosed, or totally enclosed?
  • What is the minimum number of courts it wants or needs: 6, 8, 10, or 12?
  • Does the group want lights or no lights?
  • Perhaps most importantly, where should the new courts be located? Battle Point Park or Strawberry Hill Park?

Pickleball for all.Bang Knudsen identified the advantages and challenges associated with each of these choices. A question-and-answer discussion followed.

It was the consensus of the group to defer a decision on the type of facility until more detailed plans are developed, Roberts later explained. Those plans would be brought back to the membership. The majority of voters preferred a minimum of 8 courts and an overwhelming majority favored lighted courts.

The balance of the discussion centered on the best location for a covered facility. The pros and cons for both Battle Point and Strawberry were shared with the group.

Battle Point Park Pros:
-PB Stays together
-BIPB knows the neighbors (and their concerns about sound)
-It’s appealing to donors

Battle Point Park Challenges:

-Would need to figure out the groundwater problem
-Lights would be needed
-Roof lines
-Timing
-Other user groups have tried and failed to get lights and roofs, as community members and boards have fought these issues.

Strawberry Hill Pros:
-Blank Slate
-Lots of room to grow
-Lights/roof not a problem
-The park department is looking for users to use this space, in an effort to build up this park

Strawberry Hill Challenges
-Environmental concerns
-Not located together with existing Battle Point outdoor courts
-The unknown

The group then voted with 36 favoring Strawberry Hill and 34 favoring Battle Point (this time counting in zoom votes). “These decisions will be used to shape future steering committee actions and our interaction with parks concerning the future of Pickleball, Roberts said.

Interim Options for Indoor Play

Meanwhile, Roberts explained that new indoor facilities on Bainbridge are several years away, even under the best of conditions. “We need to be looking for more and better interim options for indoor play,” he said. He noted that in this past year the committee has looked at Commodore, Ordway, and the former Albertson’s store in Poulsbo. “All have significant limitations,” he said.

Two potential options have been identified. The first is the gym at Suquamish Elementary School. Roberts said there is an opportunity for BIPB to rent the gym (3 courts) early mornings (hours not yet decided) during the winter. Rent would be $1,250 per month. “It would be a pay-to-play facility,” Roberts added. Attendees overwhelmingly voted to move ahead with that option.

The second option would be a joint public/ private partnership with the City of Poulsbo and the Pickleball communities in Kitsap, and Jefferson counties to renovate the former Office Max store in Poulsbo to a regional Pickleball venue. This would also become a pay-to-play option. Preliminary plans were shared and the audience overwhelmingly voted to actively pursue the opportunity.

Committee Sign-ups

Sherry Burke explained the functions of various sub committees, and attendees were encouraged to sign up for a committee. The committees are as follows.

  • Communications
  • Merchandise
  • Maintenance/Shed
  • Pickleball Play
  • Courts
  • Ambassadors
  • Social

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