The sound of squeaking sneakers and the thump of the basketball used to reverberate throughout Sheffield Park in east Charlotte. That was until last month, when the basketball hoops were taken down and painted over with pickleball court lines. The Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Department’s decision to convert the beloved basketball court into pickleball courts has caused an uproar in the community.
Residents feel like a crucial gathering place has been taken away. “That basketball court was like our community center,” said James Wilson, who has lived near Sheffield Park for over 20 years. “It’s where we held neighborhood cookouts, let the kids play, settled disputes. Now it just feels empty.”
The Parks Department argues the conversion provides more recreational variety, but many feel it unfairly caters to wealthier residents unfamiliar with the park’s history. “Just because pickleball is trendy doesn’t mean you take away what we’ve had here for generations,” said Alicia Jones, a Sheffield Park regular. “This was our space first.”
In response to the backlash, the Parks Department has announced it will host a community meeting within 30 days to discuss potentially building a new basketball court. But residents want action now.
“We can’t wait months for a meeting that might go nowhere,” Wilson said. “Summer will be over by then. Our kids need a place to play now.” Wilson and other community activists have started petitioning the Parks Department director and County Commissioners, demanding an immediate reversal of the conversion.
The Sheffield Park controversy illuminates the broader rise of pickleball and decline of basketball courts. Pickleball’s popularity has skyrocketed across the country, with nearly 5 million players as of 2021. Fans tout its fast-paced, easy-to-learn gameplay that can be enjoyed by all ages.
But the swarm of new pickleball players has led to clashes with basketball communities used to having dominion over public courts. “We’re losing more basketball courts every day to pickleball,” says Darius Clark, founder of a nationwide effort to save inner-city basketball courts. “It’s pushing out minority players and erasing cultural landmarks that have meaning in our neighborhoods.”
Advocates believe both sports can coexist through compromise and communication. “With proper planning and input from all community members, parks departments can provide facilities that meet everyone’s needs,” says Alicia Stone, urban recreation expert. “But they have to be willing to listen first.”
Back in east Charlotte, the basketball community hopes the Parks Department will heed their voices. “This place means so much to us,” says Jones. “We just want to shoot some hoops again.” Wilson agrees: “Basketball brings us together. Losing this court feels like losing a piece of ourselves.”
The coming community meeting will be a test of wills betweenpickleball’s rising popularity and basketball’s enduring cultural footprint. For now, the rhythmic bounce of the ball remains silenced at Sheffield Park. But the community remains ready to lace up their sneakers and reclaim their hoops dreams.