We all know pickleball is great for stress relief, and who better to benefit than cooped up kids? Last year the Prescott Pickleball Association and its associates took the game to those who’d appreciate it at the Yavapai County Detention Center. The youth had a great time learning the game and getting to release some steam.
Listening for Opportunities
The idea was planted when former racquetball champion Jerry Northwood formed the Prescott Pickleball Association with members of his club, the Willow Hills PBC, and other interested players. The group was looking to construct eight outdoor courts at Prescott’s Pioneer Park and needed city council approval to move forward.
Before Jerry got a chance to speak with the council, a woman named Gay Staling from the Yavapai County Detention Center gave a presentation.
Jerry had never considered putting a program together for detainees, but was inspired by the thought and introduced himself to Gay afterwards. To his surprise, he didn’t have to overcome any logistical or security nightmares. In fact, the YCDC already had a gym on site!
With the help of fellow pickler Ben Sialega, Jerry visited the center and determined what would be needed to arrange a 2-hour clinic for 11 boys and 11 girls (one hour for each group). Members from the Willow Hills PBC donated both equipment and time as volunteer coaches after going through a background check.
Sharing the Fundamentals
The clinics involved an introduction and history of pickleball followed by a demonstration using advanced players.
“We made sure to use both male and female players so that everyone could see it’s possible to be competitive regardless of gender. For those in the group who had experience with similar sports like racquetball, tennis or table tennis, we showed them how quickly they could pick up the game and start having fun.”
The schedule included a daily 1-hour visit over the course of a week to teach the kids all the basic rules, safety tips and warm-up exercises. After a positive response from the youth (ages 12-18) and the detention officers, they continued the program 1 day a week for 2 hours. The youth, staff and volunteer coaches all appreciate the new activity.
“When a student is released from the facility I give them my card and encourage them to call me so I can set them up with a club in their area. Hopefully the desire to keep on playing will be a healthy distraction from other things they could get involved in,” Jerry says.
Rallying toward a Happier Future
In addition to the detention center, the Prescott Pickleball Association provides duplicate programs for the Boys/Girls Club of Prescott. They have one indoor court with approximately twenty youth, ages 12-15. They call the program “modified” pickleball as the ceiling is only 8’ high.
“Believe it or not, this actually works and the staff and youth love it! They are currently in the process of constructing three outdoor pickleball courts as part of a sport court. We are two months into this program.
Willow Hills Pickleball Club also has a program for youth ages 10-15. They have 3 indoor courts and run the clinic for 1-1/2 to 2 hours each week.”
“We have a ball machine we named Samson to help teach. Our primary objective is to have kids learn the sport so they can be competitive with adults. We did have complaints about balls ending up all over the place beforehand… for some reason, the adult players didn’t appreciate that! Now we have 11-year-old youths playing in adult tournaments.
Finally, we have a program for veterans and first responders to learn racquetball and pickleball. The vets live at the VA and in a VA program for PTSD, brain injury trauma and alcohol/drug abuse. This program is the first of its kind in the U.S. and has been going for over three years now.
It’s extremely rewarding to see lives changed.”
A great big “thank you” to Jerry and his associates for letting us share their story and for putting forth the effort to support people of all ages from all walks of life with the power of pickleball.