A Communities of Excellence Trendsetter Winner Lakes of Mt. Dora
by Kathy Danforth / Published January 2015
Lakes of Mt. Dora POA, an active, adult, 55+ community in Mt. Dora, was named a 2014 Trendsetter in the 2014 Communities of Excellence contest for their low-cost, high-benefit solution to a void in their community. Pickleball club director Jack Downing relates, “The builder of our community went bankrupt four years ago, and the building of amenities stopped. We have a lovely pool and clubhouse, but outside courts have not been built. Even with picturesque, wandering lakes throughout the community and opportunities to play cards, billiards, and darts and use the fitness center and pool, it was not enough to get this ol’ heart pounding.”
Though he had never played the sport, Downing was familiar with pickleball, one of the fastest growing sports in the country. “I wanted pickleball now because each year that goes by gets me closer to looking up at the dirt instead of playing on it,” Downing states. “I found a part of a parking lot that wasn’t being used and asked the board if we could use it. When I called a meeting to see who would be interested, 65 people showed up out of our community of 391 homes! They had never played, but they were thirsting for something to do.
“Pickleball was started in Washington State in 1985 by drawing lines on a driveway and using a wiffle ball and a paddle like a ping pong paddle,” Downing explains. “The net is the same height as a tennis net, but the court is one fifth the size—20 feet by 44 feet. It was played in middle school because the kids could pick it up easily and it didn’t take much space, but now older folks have discovered that it works well, so it’s been exploding around the country. The Village here in Florida has 140 courts, and there is a national tournament each year in Utah.
“In pickleball, everyone is equal,” Downing says. “I may hit the ball harder than my wife, but the faster it goes, the more the holes in the ball slow it down so it ends up the same. Men and women can play together and have a great time. The court is small, so even if you’re not totally healthy or coordinated, it still works!
“It’s also a very safety-conscious sport,” Downing notes. “In tennis, you can smash the ball, but you can’t do that in pickleball. Seven feet behind the net on each side is the kitchen line, and you have to ‘stay out of the kitchen.’ That means that the ball has to travel at least 14 feet before it reaches anyone, so it won’t smack anyone in the face with force.”
The Lakes of Mt. Dora pickleball club proceeded to paint its courts on theparking lot, order paddles and portable nets, and play! “We named our courts ‘Poverty Park’ because it was like playing stickball on the parking lot as a kid, and the name caught on,” Downing comments. “Now people around the country are calling me with the same issues—the builder won’t provide courts or they don’t have much space—but they can use the parking lot. If you have $30 to buy a gallon of highway paint and some tape, you can lay outthe courts in a day and paint them in a couple of hours,” Downing advises.“A group here that gathers aluminum cans to recycle and a resident pool company business owner donated enough for us to buy paint and tape, and I was immediately on the phone ordering two portable nets and eight paddles.”
The Lakes of Mt. Dora pickleball club has grown to 108 members. “It’s the fastest-growing event here,” according to Downing. “We play on Monday, Thursday, and Sat-urday at 8:30 in the morning, and people will still be playing after noon. We’ve been playing since January 2013, and we’ve missed one day so far because of rain. In the heat of the summer, fewer people show up, but we average 25 people each day we play. The most people who can play at one time is 32, and people sit and talk when they’re not playing. I’m recovering from surgery and still go down to the court to visit and watch.
“This little pickleball has brought our community together,” Downing remarks. “Each week these 55–76-year-olds gather, and you can hear the ping of the ball on a paddle, lots of laughing, coaching, complimenting, and a bit of heckling. Just being out there visiting with people is the point—whether you win or lose, you have a heck of a good time!” With minimal demands for athletic prowess, money, or space, pickleball may just be the cure for whatever ails your community!
Jack Downing is available at email@example.com if you would like any tips on opening your own ‘poverty park’ in your community.
Editor’s Note: The previous Trendsetter Award winners, Bacopa Bay and Timber Pines, were featured in the November and December 2014 issues respectively. To read about their accomplishments, please visit www.fcapgroup.com/flcaj/flcaj-articles.