CRANBERRY TWP — A little more than a year after they were officially dedicated, the township's pickleball courts at Graham Park are buzzing with activity.
And that activity will ramp up even more, as the courts host the second-largest pickleball tournament in the region taking place through Memorial Day.
The eight pickleball courts were part of an athletic complex constructed as the Cranberry Township Community Chest's 2017 Project of the Year. It also includes two tennis courts, two basketball courts, four horseshoe pits and three boccie ball courts. There's also a multisport practice area, restrooms and a community garden.
Since the creation of the courts, the Cranberry Township Pickleball Association has grown exponentially. According to Bruce Mazzoni, an avid pickleball player and township supervisor, more than 400 members make the association the largest in the state.
Members are given a skills assessment rating to ensure they are learning the fundamentals of the game and are paired with players of similar skill levels.
“We will rate our members' skills, so we can put them in a level where they get good challenge play, yet do not get overwhelmed playing against members who are way better,” Mazzoni said.
Interlevel games are offered for fun, and a special league exists for highly competitive and skilled players.
Mazzoni said more than 300 people have taken part in beginner training classes, with the monthly courses routinely selling out. Continued learning is encouraged via the recently introduced CTPA Pickleball Academy, a series of nearly 40 clinics designed on the individual player's skill level.
“What we are starting does not exist in the country,” Mazzoni said.
According to Bill Billeter, CTPA committee member, the training courses take place Saturdays and offer a chance to improve one's skills in a low-pressure situation.
“Before this year and at a lot of other places, you take your beginners' class and they say, 'Good luck,'” he said. “Now they can come to that Saturday session and fine-tune their skills.”
Last month, players of all levels began putting their skills to the test during the township's first public ladder tournament. The four-week event is coordinated by Billeter, who also serves as the USA Pickleball Association ambassador for Butler County. It wraps up Memorial Day weekend.
More than 200 people are taking part in the ladder, making it the second-largest tournament in Western Pennsylvania behind Pittsburgh's Gamma Tournament. He said he anticipates the tournament growing by about 50 people each year.
“It's come a long way,” he said of the township's program.
Meanwhile, Mazzoni said the ever-increasing interest in the game is leading to discussions of further expansion. He said all fees gathered from lessons and tournaments go toward paying off the cost of the courts, as well as the possibility of starting the installation of five more courts this year.
“We are investing in our future growth,” he said.