Southern Utah has a new and exceptional feature. The Fields at Little Valley recreational complex in St. George now has 24 pickleball courts, making it the first pickleball facility to have so many public courts at a single location in the United States. This special pickleball complex was the brain child of several local pickleball players and the City of St. George to grow a sport that is playable by anyone from ages 8 to 80 year olds. This comes just as the City of St. George has announced they will host the USA Pickleball Association 2016 West Regional Tournament.
The first of the 12 pickleball courts at Little Valley were built in 2012 and soon became overcrowded due to the popularity of the game. Designed to last decades and provide ample viewing by spectators during events, it was a feather in the cap of the City of St. George Parks and Recreation Department even before the upgrade to 24 courts. City Recreation Manager Steve Bingham has noted the special new spot in the recreation program this facility has brought to St. George.
“We are very happy with the Little Valley facility and the way it has been used and received by the public,” Bingham said. “It has been a good investment and continues to attract lots of new players.”
However, there is a story within a story with the Little Valley Courts. About six years ago, a small group of pickleball players asked the City of St. George to build a large complex of courts to house large events. While the sport wasn’t widely known in St. George at the time, it was starting to grow rapidly in Arizona and other western states. Pickleball had started in Utah in the St. George neighborhood of SunRiver, and was poised to grow rapidly in the other parts of the city if there were courts.
The players approached the Parks and Recreation Department with the idea of a 24-court complex. They promised financial help if the City would back the project. St. George is a recreation vortex, and there are many sports and outdoor recreation facilities and activities the City is asked to support. There was evidence that the sport was popular based upon the dramatic increases in Huntsman registration for the sport and the City duly noted this fact.
The players organized and got donations in large and small sums. They also ran a benefit tournament at the SunRiver pickleball courts. Their efforts raised over $100,000, and the group donated the funds to the City of St. George. With a sizable donation in hand, the mayor and City Council decided such a project was worth starting. Planning and design work was the next step, and the players were given an opportunity to suggest ideas that were adopted. Sharon Sacco, one of the players working for the courts said it best when she commented that “we are lucky to have so many good people listening to the ideas, working to make things work, and making the results match the vision.”
While the first 12 courts in 2012 were a big step forward, the organizers knew that 24 were needed for major events. More financial support was needed, and the group of players known as SOUP (Southern Utah Pickleball) decided to help get voters to approve the RAP tax; it won voter approval in November 2014. With its passage, the remainder of the work for the Little Valley courts and other recreation projects went forward.
And it couldn’t have happened at a better time. Just recently it was announced that the City of St. George was selected to host the USAPA West Regional Tournament in April 2016.
“The St. George Recreation Division and the St. George community were early adopters of the fast growing sport of pickleball,” said David Jordan, St. George resident and the president of the USAPA. “The City has built high quality courts that were well designed to offer its citizens many opportunities to participate in recreational as well as competitive events.”
The Fields at Little Valley pickleball complex is a state of the art facility. It has excellent lighting for night play, stadium seating on select courts for special events, a special sound system with speakers at many of the courts, and plenty of courts with space and shade for those watching or waiting to play next, all thanks to several hard working people, both private and public.