The Owensboro Pickleball Association (OPA) announced Monday that the inaugural Tri-State Pickle Festival has been scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 28 at Yellow Creek Park. Festival organizers said a variety of family activities will be available, but the main attraction is Sundance Head, winner of season 11 of “The Voice,” who will headline a free concert in the evening.
OPA Director Rene Kuegel said the festival has been in the works for the last year to raise money to secure dedicated pickleball courts in Daviess County. In early 2018, Daviess County Fiscal Court had OPA first rights to the tennis courts at Yellow Creek Park if the organization was able to raise the estimated $112,000 to cover the costs to convert them to pickleball courts.
“We need more space, we need our own space and not rent third-party courts,” Kuegel said, adding that pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the U.S. “We could grow dramatically with those courts.”
Currently, pickleballers rely on church gyms and space at Centre Court, which both charge for the use of their facilities. Moreland Park has tennis courts available, but Kuegel said taping them off and putting up pickleball nets is time-consuming and becomes costly.
“Our biggest growth groups are with youth and aging adults,” Kuegel said, adding that the courts at Yellow Creek Park would provide space for all ages, from sun up to sun down and at an affordable cost — free.
Kuegel said since that Fiscal Court decision, the organization has hosted tournaments to help raise the funds, including the Greater Ohio Valley Pickleball Invitational in February, which drew nearly 200 pickleballers from 12 different states. Three more tournaments are scheduled for this summer and OPA plans to apply for grants from the One Health and Impact 100. Kuegel said she and the OPA board hope the Pickle Festival will get them closer to their goal.
Pickle Festival activities include the Pickle 5K, which will start off the day, a competition for the largest grown pickle — or cucumber — as well as a pickle juice chug. Bounce houses, food trucks and craft vendors will also be set up for the Sept. 28 event and Kuegel hopes to have carnival rides also.
Owensboro Idol, a singing competition for ages 16 and over, will take the small stage, Kuegel said, with confirmed judges Ron Rhodes and Joe Bird of Eyewitness News. The week prior, on Sept. 21, a Pickle Pageant will be held, with winners being part of the Pickle Festival’s activities the following weekend.
Sundance Head, winner of Season 11 of “The Voice,” will take the main stage. Joining him are Troy Miller, Alonzo Pennington and WildSky, a band comprised of Jeff “Wildman” Hardesty with Skylar and Sophia Cain.
Should OPA raise the $112,000 needed to convert the Yellow Creek tennis courts to pickleball courts, Kuegel said Daviess County Parks and Recreation will head up the construction and continue to own the property.
“We will have to work around their schedule,” Kuegel said. “We will just have the rights to use it.”
Daviess County Parks and Recreation Director Ross Leigh said his department will maintain the property and provide the lighting for the courts as an in-kind service.
“The fences are there, the lighting is there, the infrastructure is there,” Leigh said. “It’s just a matter of converting it to the existing tennis courts into a pickleball facility, which means lower nets and smaller courts, to accommodate these hundreds of pickleball players.”
The partnership, he said, will be similar to the local cross country races, whose organizers have added turn posts and upgraded their course to accommodate runners.
“It’s up to us to maintain it,” Leigh said of the partnership with cross country organizers and the future partnership with OPA. “That’s who we are as a department. We always say, ‘We provide you the facility to be able to make your memories.’”
Leigh said Daviess County Parks only runs two special events — Labor Day fireworks and Christmas lights at Panther Creek Park. Everything else, he said, is organized by local groups.
Kuegel said she has been partnering with the department on not only the pickleball courts, but also the Pickle Festival, which she said has been helpful in getting the inaugural event off the ground.
“They have been all in for the festival,” Kuegel said, adding that the parks department has connected OPA officials with the same vendors that help put on ROMP.
The Pickle Festival will be in the same field, Kuegel said, but will be a smaller setup, at least for now.
“We are going to try it for the first two, three, four years,” Kuegel said. “If it draws great crowds, we’re going to keep making it bigger and better.”