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Public Paddle Comes To Cleveland

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

by Hank Stewart; forward by Michael Diven

Forward: Hank was my first captain, El Capitan de los Lebos. The least we can do at PGH Paddle is to repay him by helping to promote Cleveland's first public platform tennis facility - The Flats Platform Tennis Center in Cleveland, OH. Yes, you read that correctly - Cleveland. Please consider donating to help fund public paddle. Enjoy the article.

When I was playing paddle in Pittsburgh, I didn't know how good I had it.

Actually, I did. In Pittsburgh I was part of a paddle community that was fun, competitive, and often unruly--in the best of all possible ways, of course.

This was especially true of my home "club" of Mt. Lebanon. Our play was a blast. Our hut time was even better. Cold weather. Warm weather. We had good paddle, good people, and a lot of laughs.

One of the things I came to appreciate during my time at Lebo was the public aspect of the facility. Being a public facility allowed new players to try out the game without having to go through any sort of membership nonsense, or make a serious financial commitment. During my time at Lebo, our off-season, weather-permitting, civic-minded, pick-up nights lured in quite a few newbies who are now established league players and genuine paddle trouble makers. (You know who you are.)

Please note, this is not in any way meant to be a slight on the Pittsburgh country clubs. I've had many an enjoyable evening and acquired many a friend at these clubs. Members there were always good hosts, generally good sports (heh heh), and I officially give them a big, wet kiss right here and now. But back to public facilities.

Pittsburgh is lucky. In addition to Mt. Lebanon, you've got North Park, Upper St. Clair Township, and Sewickley Y as public paddle facilities. This is not the case in my new home city, Cleveland, Ohio. Here every paddle court is part of a private country club or racquet club, and if you want to play in any of the city's leagues, you have to join one of those clubs. While some of the clubs offer "paddle only" memberships (I have one), they're still pretty pricey (in the thousand-dollar-a-year range).

But that's about to change.

Before the end of this year, Cleveland will have its first paddle courts designed specifically for public use, the Flats Platform Tennis Center (FPTC). These four courts will be located in an area of downtown Cleveland known as "The Flats." This area has undergone a lot of changes over the years, from an industrial age manufacturing and shipping center on the Cuyahoga River, to a puke-on-your-shoes party zone in the 1980's. Today, it's a growing residential and commercial area that still maintains some of its urban, rust belt grit. There are condos, restaurants, pubs, brewpubs, rowing clubs, and gentlemen's cabarets. A perfect spot for paddle.

The FPTC is the brainchild of the Cleveland Platform Tennis Foundation (CPTF), a non-profit organization with the mission of growing paddle in northeast Ohio. (Full disclosure; I joined their Board of Directors earlier this year.) Get more information here:

The FPTC is all about increasing access to paddle. We'll be offering discounted memberships for players age 35 and under, monthly memberships, trial memberships, free clinics for newcomers (no membership required)--even FREE drop-in times, when anyone can just show up and play at no cost.

We're developing an after-school Youth Mentoring Program that will bring middle and high school students from all across the city to the facility, where they will be assigned a mentor (an adult volunteer), who will alternatively help them learn paddle, and assist with academics. (I plan on being a volunteer, though I'm not sure how much help I'll be in either of those arenas.)

By bringing down geographic and economic barriers, the FPTC will help democratize paddle, and make the game and the city of Cleveland richer as a result.

Construction is set to begin as soon as the city issues our permits, a process which has been slowed by COVID-19. Any. Day. Now. We're still optimistic to have the facility ready for league play this fall.

Of course, a project like this does not come cheap. We've been able to raise $500,000 from the Cleveland paddle community, and a handful of local businesses and foundations (plus a nice loan/grant from the APTA). Our fundraising goal is in sight, but we need one final push. (You know what's coming next, don't you?)

If, as a fellow paddle player, this sounds like something you'd like to support, we've created a Go Fund Me page, where you can make a donation. Here's the link:

I want to thank Mike and Jarod for giving me the chance to share this story with you, and the rest of the Pittsburgh paddle community for your consideration. I hope to see yinz on the courts again before too long.



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