Kent County Recreation Center up and running

DOVER –– It was smiles all around as members of the First State Pickleball Club took to the Kent County Recreation Center’s courts for the first time Saturday.

“We don’t have many indoor courts, so this is fantastic,” said Peg Hinkle, a New Castle resident and ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association after the center’s ceremonial ribbon cutting.

The club has courts all across the state but most are re-purposed tennis courts without permanent nets or protection from unfavorable weather.

About 50 of the club’s 320 members came not only to play at the new venue, but to also offer demonstrations about how the quick-growing sport to members of the community who came out to get their first look at the facility.

“A lot of people get interested just from seeing us play,” said Dana Aultman, treasurer of the First State Pickleball Club. “And it’s an easy sport to learn. It’s has the speed of table tennis and the strategy of tennis on a court the size of badminton.”

Mr. Aultman said that a sport like tennis can take years of practice to hold a consistent rally while most people can get the hang of pickleball enough to hit back and forth in less than an hour.

“It’s even faster if you have any experience with a sport that uses a racquet or paddle,” he added. “So then, your main focus is just learning the rules and scoring which aren’t too difficult.”

It’s also a sport that’s suitable for all ages and is played all over the country.

“My in-laws are the ones who introduced it to me about two years ago,” Brian Garber of Newark said. “I’m a former tennis player and coach and with that, it can be difficult to play recreationally because you need someone at a similar skill level as you. But pickleball is very social and so many people play that you’re bound to pair up with someone of a similar skill pretty much anywhere in the country.”

On a recent trip to Iowa for his son’s Odyssey of the Mind competition, Mr. Garber was able to connect with a club and even was given a ride to a pickleball meet up.

“Everyone in the sport is so friendly,” he said. “And although most the players are older than me, it’s still up and coming and we’re always trying to get younger people involved.”

Pickleball is only one of several sports which the Rec Center has permanent markings for – lines for basketball, field hockey, lacrosse, tennis, volleyball and futsal (indoor football) are also marked.

“It’s exciting to see Kent County’s much needed amenities like this gym come to life,” said Kevin Zimmerman, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission. “Young generations now and generations to follow will be able to participate in and enjoy a wide range of sports and activities here.”

The $10 million Rec Center has been a long time coming as a strategic plan from 1991 included a goal of building a recreation center in each of the county’s three parks at the time.

Sights for a flagship recreation center were originally set on Brecknock Park but eventually focused on Kesslering Farm on New Burton Road. The farm had fallen into the hands of Jane Kesslering Edwards and her siblings who took their time in finding the right buyer for the land who wouldn’t develop the land into a neighborhood. The family eventually met with Kent County and settled on a deal.

“We’ve spent a lot of time stretching dollars and saving millions to finally afford a facility like this,” said Levy Court Commissioner Jody Sweeney.

But even after the land was purchased by the county, the planning of a recreation center took years.

“The plans for this changed shape and size more times than you can imagine,” former director of Parks and Recreation, Keith Mumford said.

When the county was still aiming for Brecknock Park, one design proposal called for the exterior to appear barn-like.

But with the guidance of Becker Morgan, EDiS and Lighthouse Construction, the official design and layout was agreed upon with oversight from the county.

The offerings of the Rec Center don’t end at the walls – there is an outdoor multipurpose turf field, grass fields and baseball diamonds. As the Center lies on more than 50 acres, there is a potential to create more outdoor fields in the future.

The Center is at 1693 New Burton Road in Dover. Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, visit or call 744-2495.

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