Recreation back to booming business

Jeri Klepp, left, and Kathleen Clark enjoy a sunny December afternoon playing pickleball at the Wellness Center.

After a tough year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tellico Village recreation is once more fully operational and performing as well as ever.

“Right now our numbers are up, our usage — we’re busier than we have been,” Simon Bradbury, recreation director, said. “Our class numbers for group fitness are busier than ever and we have over 87 classes that we offer. Every area has been doing well. The memberships are at pre-pandemic numbers now.”

Bradbury said the pandemic caused a 30% drop in membership. The Wellness Center closed for two months at one point as management figured out the best way to move forward. Restrictions were in place for several months more.

“For a long time we had people had to sign in, reserve space for people,” Bradbury said. “We had six-foot social distancing, so we had to move equipment around. Every week we’d have a new rule from the government, from the governor, that said we had to do this, we had to do that. We’d get them on Fridays and by Monday morning we had to be up and running in a new way. Different protocols over what could and can’t be opened.”

All that ended in the spring, when everything was once more permitted open with no restrictions.

While the pandemic is ongoing, Bradbury said people want to be healthy and active and are now comfortable coming out given the vaccination rate and management’s continued efforts to keep facilities clean.

Bradbury said some of the most popular programs right now are the group fitness classes, which cover a wide array of activities ranging from yoga to water fitness.

Another big draw is pickleball.

“Tellico Village obviously is a community of 8,000 residents and about one in 10 plays pickleball,” Gordon Young, pickleball club vice president, said. “Our club has just over 750 members. … We have eight courts currently that are solely for pickleball and quite honestly they are used constantly, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. We have about 100,000 hours of play per year on the courts.

“We have an active club, we have a great time and a lot of fun,” he added. “And I think if there’s any injuries out there, it’s because of laughter. That’s not completely true, but you would be surprised from a competitive sport I think the draw for pickleball is the amount of laughter and camaraderie that takes place even in competitive matches.”

Like all recreational activities, pickleball was affected by the pandemic as the club implemented safety measures to limit players at the courts and encourage social distancing. But since the end of restrictions in the spring, pickleball’s popularity picked up where it left off.

The club previously had plans to add new courts to accommodate interest. With play returning to busy levels, those plans are back at the forefront.

“We are working with Timeless Tellico Foundation to develop a project called the Pickleplex,” Young said. “The Pickleplex would add four additional courts as phase one, and phase two we would cover those courts, which would allow for play on a day where it’s not the most pleasant out there and it’s raining and it’s just too slick to be safe to play. So, in a nutshell, our club has sponsored this starting two years ago, just before COVID hit. We have raised, along with Timeless Tellico, just over $160,000 toward the courts.”

While fundraising efforts were impacted, the pickleball club did host a Raise the Roof party, which contributed a little over $16,000 to the effort.

TTF President Walt Cook said the plan is to raise $200,000, with construction bidding set to take place in the first quarter of 2022.

“We went out this year and this year was not a conducive year to get a good price in construction and bids came in quite high,” Cook said. “So we’re bidding it again in the beginning of the new year, hoping people will sharpen their pencils, and we’ll see if we can get the courts installed this coming year.”