Pickleball Founders Leave Saddlebrooke
By Larry Linderman
Dave and Beth Patterson, the folks most responsible for introducing Saddlebrooke to the popular sport of pickleball, have moved to Florida to be nearer family. It was six years ago that they started the Saddlebrooke Pickleball Club with a handful of enthusiasts and today SPA is almost 500 members strong. We went from having one court, outlined by masking tape in a parking lot, to 11 courts that are used practically all day every day.
Before they left I had the opportunity to interview Beth. In the interview, she recalls the difficulties in the beginning, the missteps, the disappointments and finally the elation of seeing our Ridgeview courts completed. Of all the folks involved in the Club nobody comes close to matching their contribution to its success.
February 2013 Interview with Beth Patterson
SPA: Beth, How and when were you introduced to pickleball?
One of my clogging friends, Julie Brown, was invited to take some friends and go to the Voyager RV Resort to play a game. Julie asked us (Dave and me) to go along. We had no idea what this game was, but, thank God, we went, because our lives changed that day. Before we got there, I wasn’t even aware that Pickleball was a net sport. I had been a devoted tennis player for years, but had to give up the game due to a torn rotator cuff. I just couldn’t manage the overhand serve anymore. When I saw pickleball, and realized that the serve was underhand, I knew that this was something I could do. I felt like I got my life back that day. We all just fell in love with the game. And we knew that day that we were going to move heaven and earth if we had to, to get it at SaddleBrooke.
SPA: You began by outlining a court with tape in the street. Pretty audacious. What happened next?
Actually, we began with a demo in the parking lot at Mountain View Clubhouse. I had asked for a tennis court to use to do the demo and was refused. So, I contacted Marsha South and asked to use the parking lot and was granted permission. Our first problem (and hint of things to come) came the night before the demo, when I had a call from HOA 2 telling me that they had changed their minds about letting us use the parking lot. There was a board meeting scheduled for the next day, and they would need the parking lot. I explained that I had publicized the demo, had a number of people coming, and a couple of pickleball ambassadors from the national organization coming. I suggested that they keep their commitment to me and not have cars parked in that specific parking lot, because we WERE going to do the demo, and the cars might get hit with pickleballs. There were no cars parked in the parking lot. There was one HOA 2 van in the lot, and it did get hit, but no damage was done. That was on February 26, 2007. There were 85 people at the demo that day, and 75 of them signed a club charter to establish a pickleball club.
You mentioned our playing in the street. I credit Bob Perez for the use of the street for a court. He had tried to get pickleball going before I did. He, too, was refused the use of a tennis court, but he did have a letter from the SaddleBrooke Patrol granting him permission to use the dead end street in front of Desert View Theatre. For some reason, Bob never used it, but he gave me the letter, which I presented to the Patrol, and they agreed that we were good to go.
At first, we had hoped to play in the street every day, but there was a mobile taco shack at the end of the street, and traffic going by constantly during the week….so we ended up playing only on weekends. We had a homemade net system, again, made by Bob Perez …. posts in concrete blocks which were quite heavy. We would load those in our golf cart each weekend, tape the court lines with masking tape which would come loose during the week, and blow into the desert. We faithfully gathered it up and disposed of it, and re-taped the court every weekend…..lots of work, but we loved it! Bob also gave us four beginner paddles and balls.
We had only one court, and we had only a few hours on Saturday, but people were lined up to learn the game. Our first day of play on the street was March 10. There were 50 people in line to learn the game. People would come, stand in line for an hour, and get to play one game.
It soon became obvious that the interest in the game demanded better facilities. There was an asphalt pad in the Preserve which had housed the golf shop prior to the building of the Preserve clubhouse. Tim Fudge, then HOA 2 Operations Manager, had the pad resurfaced for us, and provided outdoor umbrella stands to hold net posts. Doug Springer, Vice-Chairman of HOA 2 Recreation and Activities Committee, worked with HOA 2 employees to paint the lines. Doug also purchased and fabricated galvanized pipe for net posts. We began play at the Preserve on May 12.
SPA: There was a lot of resistance to PB in the beginning. Why didn’t you give up?
Actually, giving up never entered my mind. During the entire five plus years of repeated obstacles, there was just so much enthusiasm from people once they got involved, that we knew we were doing a good thing for SaddleBrooke. The temporary courts at the Preserve were very visible and attracted lots of attention., People would stop and watch….get interested, and we would encourage them to try it. That’s all it took. Once they tried it, they were addicted. In my mind, the people who were opposed were those who didn’t know what the game was all about. Everyone who did get involved wanted to help.
SPA: Your husband, Dave, was your right-hand man. Who else did you rely on in the beginning?
In the very beginning, Jack Davis was a big help. He helped us set up the court in the street. As I mentioned, Bob Perez was a great help. Doug Springer encouraged us a lot. Len and Mary Gajeske were tremendous supporters from the beginning. Len set up our website, and Mary was our first membership chairperson. Mike Bubla was instrumental in getting our first big donation of $4,000 from the Health and Wellness Team on April 13, 2007. That was a gigantic boost for us. Doug Springer and the swim team, along with Jeff Eighmy and the CycleMasters, had a fundraiser for us and raised $16,000. We have always had a lot more people FOR us than against us.
Julie Brown was a huge help. From the beginning, our goal was to make this more than just another sport, but a group of friends who had fun together both on and off the courts. To that end, Julie put together a social committee and began organizing monthly parties. We began to get a reputation as THE fun group in SaddleBrooke.
SPA: The first permanent courts were built behind the Desert View Theater and were quickly shut down. SPA members and other residents had raised $51,000 to finance the court’s construction. What was your reaction?
A gamut of emotions….disbelief, anger, disappointment, frustration, and then determination to make things right for all the people who had worked so hard. We had been extremely cooperative with everything the HOA and the developer had told us we had to do.
For example, we were told that we would never get pickleball in SaddleBrooke unless we did it on a multipurpose court in conjunction with basketball and volleyball. We didn’t like that idea, and as it turned out, volleyball wasn’t really interested and doesn’t use the court, but we acquiesced.
Because pickleball is a noisy game, we suggested the empty lot near the softball field as a location for the courts. There were no houses there then, and if the courts had been built first, as they do at The Villages of Florida, there would have been no problem with homeowners. But, we were told that that property was not an option; it was going to be used for office space. It turns out that didn’t happen.
We warned the HOA and the developer that noise would be a problem. They assured us that it would not. Well, it WAS, and we were the ones who suffered. What a waste of time and money….and today those courts are not being used by ANY sport to speak of.
SPA: From the start you served on the Club’s boards until the Ridgeview Courts were built five years later. Describe some of the highs and lows of those years.
I like to focus on the highs, so I’ll tell you about those first. After the Desert View fiasco, the developer agreed to give us the use of one tennis court, and we were able to put three pickleball courts there. So then we had five courts, including the two courts on the asphalt pad.
Some very enthusiastic and talented people had come on board, namely Eileen Berst, a nationally ranked tennis player, joined us and Bob and Nancy Shelton, both experienced competitive tennis players. They had all been involved in teaching tennis, organizing clinics and tournaments, etc. Dave and I had been giving the introductory lessons, but neither of us could play the game at the level that Eileen and the Sheltons could. They jumped right in and took over with lessons and clinics.
At the annual Recreation and Activities Fair, Pickleball would get more interest than any other SB organization, and we would be kept busy for weeks, giving lessons to all the people who wanted to learn the game.
As more and more people became passionate about the game, we had eager help for anything we needed done, including another huge fund-raising drive, which raised over $120,000 for what would become the Ridgeview courts.
The lows include the resignation of a president of the club. He had worked so hard to cooperate with the HOA and the developer, and finally just became too frustrated with all the obstacles that were being thrown at him….and he felt that the truth was not always forthcoming from the powers that be. That was a bit of a setback.
And then, there was the highly organized opposition to building new courts near the softball field. That turned neighbor against neighbor, and was extremely regrettable, and in my opinion, unnecessary. Once again, we were slam-dunked, but we were not defeated. As I said at my farewell party, this passionate group of people doesn’t give up. They are like a GPS system. Throw an obstacle at them and they simply “recalculate the route”.
Because of the Desert View fiasco, the “sound of pickleball” situation has been blown out of proportion. Even people who have never actually “heard” the sport have “heard” of it, and are opposed. Some are so pre-disposed to object that when sound tests were being made prior to building the Ridgeview courts, several people complained about the sound BEFORE THE TESTS EVEN BEGAN!
SaddleBrooke has been forced to overcome more obstacles to pickleball than any other club in the country that I am aware of. Yet we have persevered, and I am SO proud of SaddleBrooke picklers for their “never say die” attitude.
A final and most important “low”, in my opinion, is the fact that HOA 1 has given absolutely no support to pickleball, despite the fact that almost half of pickleball club members are HOA 1 residents. Our club goes out of its way to support both HOA 1 and HOA 2 Clubhouses. We have many socials at HOA 1, including a huge Christmas party each year, yet we have received not one dollar of support from HOA1. I think that’s shameful.
SPA: On April 18, 2012, the courts were dedicated to you, Dave and Ed Sympruch, a club member who selflessly served as the general contractor. How did that feel?
I was shell-shocked! I had no idea that was in the works. I was so excited to see people on those great new courts that I walked right by the sign without reading it. Nancy Shelton told me to read it, and when I did, I was just overcome with emotion. At that point, others were working so much more than I, that I didn’t feel I deserved such an honor.
I was thrilled, though, that Ed was honored. One thing many people don’t realize is that in the other Robson developments where pickleball has been included, the courts have been designed and built by people who are not pickleball players, and who don’t understand the needs of pickleball. Our courts were designed by Ed, who IS a pickler, and knew exactly what we needed. He was on top of every aspect of the design and construction, and he deserves all the accolades we can give him!
I’m touched and honored that our name is associated with the courts. I’m equally as touched by the number of people who approached me at our farewell party and told me that pickleball has brought a whole new dimension to their lives, as well as a whole new set of forever friends. It’s nice to know that we’ve touched some lives in a positive way.
SPA: Where are you moving to and do they have pickleball there?
We’re moving to Ormond Beach, Florida, to a gated community called Plantation Bay. At this time, they have everything BUT pickleball.
SPA: What are you going to do about that?
Funny you should ask. I have been in touch with the Director of Sports and Fitness, and he assures me that pickleball is planned….but he didn’t say how soon. I’ll just make a bit of an effort to hurry things along once I get there. I’ve already had some of our instructors here offer to come and help with a clinic, etc. It could get exciting!