Everyone knows there’s something rotten in Denmark, but the question that’s now been presented to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners is whether or not there’s something rotten in the way the county has been managing its pickleball courts.
One impassioned pickleball player, John Henry Bohlken, spoke about the situation at a Guilford County Board of Commissioners meeting in February, presented numerous documents to the county, and called the matter to the attention of the county’s legal department.
Bohikem then showed up at the commissioners’ annual retreat last month when the retreat was held at Bur-Mil Park. However, at that two-day meeting of the board, the commissioners didn’t have a slot for Speakers from the Floor, so Bohikem was unable to address the board collectively at that meeting.
When Bohikem spoke to the commissioners in February in the large meeting room on the second floor of the Old Guilford County Court House in downtown Greensboro, he said he was doing so on behalf of many outraged county citizens who enjoy playing pickleball and who object to the way the county has allowed a private, for-profit company to take so much control over – and profit from – the courts which have already been funded by tax dollars.
Bohikem added said he had closely reviewed the county’s contract with a private company and said the company is in breach of the contract because it subcontracted the courts out without a legal right to do so.
“They are also hiding revenue,” he told the board, adding that payment methods did not provide the transparency the county needed to assure its contracts were being adhered to.
Guilford County Manager Mike Halford and Interim County Attorney Matt Mason both told the Rhino Times recently, when asked about Bohiken’s concerns, that the county was looking into the matter.
Pickleball, which is a mash-up of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, is reportedly “the fastest-growing sport in America.” The paddle-ball sport has been popular among older adults because it provides much of the thrill of tennis but doesn’t require as great a range of motion, but currently the fast growing sport is reaching more and more younger players.
Bohikem has presented the commissioners with a four-page written complaint as well as other material that he says supports his position.
He said that, in some cases, payment for court use had been handled through a Venmo account – which made it impossible for the county to track that revenue to collect its contractually agreed-upon share.
Bohlken has also said that he’s considering suing the county if the issue isn’t resolved.
When he first brought the issue to the board two months ago, he stated that private for-profit tournaments were preventing the general public from getting access to the courts at Bur-Mil.
“They have a tournament going on this weekend, where they are using the courts solely for themselves – and they will make in excess of $20,000 this weekend,” he said. “None of the public will be able to use the facilities, and they have kind of bogarted and commandeered our property for their personal gain.”
Last year, Guilford County Parks Department reconfigured some of the existing tennis courts at Bur-Mil Park into ten permanent pickleball courts. In the Summer of 2021, Bur-Mil Park Supervisor Todd Moore said the county saw a big demand for pickleball after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic – and, he added, county officials realized this would be a great way to repurpose older county-owned tennis courts which were not being widely used.
The pickleball facility at Bur-Mil Park includes two rows of five courts with some seating for spectators.
According to the county’s current information listed on the webpage for Bur-Mil Park, “The courts are available to the general public at no cost on a first-come, first-serve basis during regular park hours, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., when not in use for scheduled programming.”
The statement adds that “Precision Instruction, in partnership with Carolina Tennis & Paddle, provide free and paid programming including learn to play clinics, leagues and tournaments for players looking to meet new players and improve their games.”