Leland’s future in local sporting is caught in a conversation between pickleball and other sports.

Leland Town Council and the Parks & Recreation Board met Feb. 6 to seek input from its citizens regarding the current and future state of sports in the town. An array of presenters, including the Wilmington Family YMCA and the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), floated out a sampling of their organizations’ capabilities and possibilities for Leland.

Richard Holloman, a Brunswick Forest resident and ambassador for the USAPA, spoke on a vision for pickleball in our area. “Our objective is to establish a local public/private partnership whereby we can build world-class indoor pickleball facility right here in Leland,” Holloman explained.

Pickleball is a paddle sport combining elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong, and is played on a surface comparable to a juniors tennis court. Currently, of the 1,160 county-wide pickleball players, over 700 live in Leland.

“It creates great interaction and camaraderie among the town’s neighborhoods,” Holloman said.

Pickleball is known for its popularity among all ages. Holloman mentioned he had recently seen a game that involved three generations of one family. According to the USAPA, the sport will swell from 2.5 million participants to 8 million in 10 years. According to Holloman’s presentation, other than The Villages, a 55+ retirement community near Jacksonville, Fl., Brunswick County has the most pickleballers east of Arizona.

What does The Villages have that Leland does not have? Namely a pickleball facility with 180 courts and 2,000 players. With such enterprising close to home, Holloman insisted on the economic benefits to follow.

“Most importantly, from an economic standpoint, is to get a lot of those 15,000 baby boomers who are retiring every day to make a decision to live in Leland, North Carolina,” Holloman said.

As the meeting shifted into the public forum portion, citizens in attendance voiced a variety of viewpoints. Some offered perceptions on the need for an all-inclusive type of facility offering multiple sporting opportunities. Others talked about the potential of opportunities for sportssuch as baseball, softball, and track, particularly in the context of youth. If one common thread existed, it was the issue of economic prospects balanced with a longing for community.

“I thought this meeting was about recreation; not just pickleball,” Leland resident Trudy Trombley said.

Director of Brunswick County Parks and Recreation, Aaron Perkins, presented on the current amenities in the area. In Bolivia, Brunswick Community College’s Dinah E. Gore Fitness and Aquatics Center meets many needs of active residents. He said that with such a large county, it is tough to truly provide a population inclusive facility that is centrally located.

Perkins encouraged people to “talk to council members” and “talk to commissioners.”

Trombley raised questions on the possibilities of adding facilities such as basketball courts, tennis courts, and walking trails. Aptly dubbed a roundtable discussion, the night brought information from a variety of places.

Lee Spooner, Director of Soccer at Wilmington Family YMCA, presented what the Y could offer to Leland. Obtaining property, construction and, most critically, building community support, would be the dominant components of providing a facility, Spooner said. Conversely, not taking the big-project route has its positives.

“If there’s a need in the community we can come in. With 4100 Ys in the U.S., we can put out a job saying ‘hey we need a new athletic coordinator for Leland.’” Spooner said.

Shannon Berg, director of operations at the Wilmington Y, also attended the meeting.

“I thought the discussion was very healthy for the Leland Area, bringing people together to find out what the needs are,” Berg said, “I think that’s step one: to at least listen to your community and figure out what’s going on.”

Berg and Spooner emphasized the versatility of Y programs, which are presently happening in Brunswick County. Belville Elementary hosts the STRIDE program, a fitness and running program for boys in grades 3-8. Moving for Better Balance, a class for active older adults teaching principles of tai chi, has been available in Southport.

“It’s exciting to see that everything that was mentioned tonight is something that the Y can provide,” Spooner said, “We can coach a two-year-old and we can help a senior citizen with their back problems.”

According to 2010 Census data, residents ranging from birth to 17 accounted for more than 14 percent of Leland’s population, while those 65 and older accounted for about 15 percent. With those figures growing in 2017, youth and seniors alike hold stock in the conversation.

“I think it would be great to have a Junior Olympic program here in Leland,” Larry Brock, head coach of football and assistant track and field coach at North Brunswick High School said.

Coach Brock, whose children run track, shared that he drives them to Ashley High School for track events. He was adamant about the potential benefits of track in the Leland community but optimistic about other sports ventures.

“I got a little bias to track, but I don’t think we can’t do it for every sport,” Brock explained, “I just think that this town is a booming thing; it’s on the verge of something that could be really really good.”

Brock gave a thank you to all at the meeting who voted for the most recent school bond. Applause followed. He also stated that there is a possible disconnect between the Town of Leland and North Brunswick High School, which he feels hopeful he can help unite.

Building community ties as well as fueling economic growth are arguably coexistent. Berg, a youth soccer parent, shared how a multitude of families eat at surrounding restaurants in Wilmington following games. This trend in culture, she said, could help Leland’s business front.

Berg and Spooner each spoke highly of the ability of the Y to offer variety. “If you’re not a Y person, you wouldn’t know that you could go to the gym and do Zumba one day and then play pickleball and then on to futsal,” Berg said.

Holloman reinforced that pickleball is growing statewide. “Our state has the third largest concentration of pickleball players in the country, and it’s been nationally recognized as the state with the most rapid growth,” he said.

In his presentation, Holloman cited Peter Phelps, the ambassador for the USAPA in Spalding County, Ga., who said that pickleball is “where soccer tournaments were in the 80s.” Phelps also wrote that USAPA tournaments were a “game-changer” for sports tourism in Spalding County.

Holloman stated that property values, along with hotel use and programs for youth, would likely increase with amplified pickleball opportunities. He also hinted at the prospect of attracting millennials in the region to “come try” the sport.

Invented in 1965 near Seattle, pickleball is a phenomenon holding numerous tournaments in a sprawling range of destinations each year. In 2016, Leland hosted the Dink for Pink tournament raising $18,000 for breast cancer awareness. It returns at Brunswick Forest March 15-18 featuring a bill of 240 contenders.

“We want to get where we can host tournaments and bring people here because if they come, they’re gonna like it!” Holloman said.

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