A crowd of avid local pickleball and tennis players gathered Thursday night at the Evanston Ecology Center to add their voices to an increasingly complicated debate over what spaces should be used for the two sports.

Evanston Community Tennis Association President Debbie Cassell speaks in front of a packed crowd at Thursday’s Parks and Recreation Board meeting. Credit: Duncan Agnew

In October 2022, a group of residents showed up to a Parks and Recreation Board meeting asking the city to build dedicated, permanent pickleball courts at local parks.

But their seemingly simple request has sparked a debate among Evanston’s tennis and pickleball communities. Can the two sports live together in harmony? Or does adding more courts from one take away courts from the other?

“I just don’t understand why, simply because there’s another racquet sport, that tennis courts have to be used for pickleball. Pickleball can be put on any kind of paved surface, asphalt, cement,” local tennis player Jennifer Roberts said at the latest Parks and Recreation Board meeting Thursday, Feb. 16.

“I don’t understand why it has to be either tennis or pickleball, because there are other ways that you can play pickleball.”

This debate has cropped up recently because the city council allocated about half a million dollars this year for the resurfacing of tennis courts, many of which are dilapidated or even unusable. The council’s decision provides funding for the city to resurface 14 courts at Bent Park, Burnham Shores, James Park and the Robert Crown Community Center.

After the October meeting, the Parks and Recreation Board held a special January meeting with both tennis and pickleball players, where the board came to a tentative decision, recommending the following actions:

  • Create a dedicated pickleball complex at Bent Park (where all tennis courts would be converted to pickleball courts)
  • Resurface the tennis courts at Burnham Shores, for tennis use only
  • Convert one tennis court into two pickleball courts at James Park
  • Convert two tennis courts into four pickleball courts at Robert Crown (the only location with lights to play at night)

Thursday’s meeting is the first of two to gather public feedback. Another will be at the March Parks and Recreation Board meeting, and the board does not expect to make a decision on resurfacing and court conversions until April.

Some residents in the crowd who live near Bent Park and Robert Crown brought up concerns about excess noise from pickleball playing. Parks and Recreation Director Audrey Thompson and board President Robert Bush said they are considering the possibility of a sound study on the impact that pickleball might have on neighbors.

As one potential solution, pickleball player Jeri Dahlman encouraged the board to consider the possibility of a “sound reduction fence covering” that could go over the fences around pickleball courts in Evanston.

Parks and Recreation Director Audrey Thompson addresses residents at Thursday's meeting.

City staff is also planning to reach out to neighbors of Bent Park and Robert Crown for more feedback, according to Thompson.

“I joined the Y a year-and-a-half ago. We had two [pickleball] courts available at the Y. We had six people on the mailing list,” Michael Olsavsky said Thursday. “Today, that list is now 145 people. … You’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg right now. This is only going to get bigger and bigger because it’s more than just a sport. It’s a social activity.”

Thompson and Bush, though, emphasized that they only have funding from the city council to resurface tennis courts or convert them into pickleball courts. As a result, they urged people to go to city council and advocate for more funding for their respective sports.

The previous parks and recreation leadership had also asked the city council for a study into pickleball facilities, but no action was taken on that request, according to Thompson.

“The department understood that pickleball was coming, but the study was not approved by the city council,” Thompson said. “And we are in this predicament now because we have not planned.”

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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    1. Duncan is amazing and exceptional and he did a great job on this story. But the headline was a joint effort.