The Billings Pickleball Association was founded in 2018 but pickleball in Billings started long before. Check out the highlights below! Thanks to Edith Sloan for the storytelling!
The story of pickleball coming to Billings necessarily coincides with the arrival of Larry and April Seekins in 2002. “Before Larry,” says Mike Nys, past Program Director for Billings YMCA, “there was no organized pickleball program in Billings.”
Prior to moving to Billings in 2002, Larry and April had purchased their Billings home in anticipation of his retirement from the U.S. Forest Service. They had over twenty years’ experience in playing pickleball, competing and teaching as well as serving as Ambassador for the sport. From Florida, to Arizona, Utah, Oregon and Washington State, they competed, encouraged and assisted fledgling pickleball organizations and tournaments. While living in Oregon and, with help from friends, they created the Oregon State Games. Over the years, Larry initiated the training of at least six players in their efforts to achieve National Championship status. Currently most notable is Brian Ashworth, operating at pro-level and even has a paddle named after him.
“Larry had a young grandchild in YMCA basketball not long after they moved here,” says Nys. “He approached me about starting a pickleball program at the Billings “Y”. I was a professional tennis instructor, so I had heard about the sport but had not played it. Because of badminton’s cancellation, we had already purchased nets, equipment and painted court lines.
“Scheduling, though, was limited. We had 1:00-3:00 open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Friday evenings. That didn’t stop Larry – he was ready to go.
“Pickleball happened because of Larry,” says Nys. “We worked together to set up the program but, without Larry, it wouldn’t have succeeded. He was totally committed.“ It took awhile for the Billings program to grow. The initial job for Larry was to promote it. Catching people as they walked by the gym, Larry might say, “You look like you’d be a good pickleball player”, trying to get them interested in coming to play. They started a blurb in the YMCA Program Guide, like “What is pickleball?” They explained it then asked, “Interested?” Larry also recruited family members and neighbors to play with him at the Y in order to create more interest.“ Larry,” say Nys, “had a desire to make everyone a pickleball player.” The program grew organically. Participants began to form groups and would meet to play on Mondays and Wednesdays during open gym. Eventually, those 1:00-3:00 sessions were added to the pickleball schedule.
“BPA is a natural evolution of our Y program,” says Larry, “and it is the future of pickleball in Billings and the surrounding area. We are developing the next generation of ambassadors, players and programs through it.
“Wow,“ continues Larry, “we have a great history. Lots of wonderful people have been and are in our program.” Billings is one more success story in the growth of pickleball across our nation and world. Join in.
The Billings Pickleball Association was formed in October 2018, with the goal of creating one voice to partner with our local government, to promote our sport and to unite our growing community of members using social media, apps and events.
One of our members formed the Roundup Pickleball Club located 50 miles north of Billings. Year-round play, two inside courts and one outside at the city park, is accessible for over 15 participants.
In our second year as an association, we hosted two bingo fundraising nights at a local taproom, created our website and worked with the Billings Parks & Rec Dept. toward getting dedicated pickleball courts.
We also kicked off our Mini Round Robins tournaments, with winners going home with their prize, usually a jar of pickles or a bag of dill pickle chips! Several tournaments were held in Billings either through the YMCA or the Big Sky State Games.
New venues to play at were also established. With the help of one member, pickleball lines were painted on the 4 MSUB tennis courts. Another member has organized twice a week open play at Independent School.
We had planned to host our first tournament in April, but had to cancel it due the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, the Big Sky State Games Pickleball Tournament was played outside for the first time in years. BPA's First Annual Fall Brawl was held at the end of August at the Elks Tennis Facility with plenty of social distancing measures. But the most exciting news from 2020 was the completion of our first dedicated pickleball courts at Lillis Park. We had more than 50 members show up for the ribbon cutting in September and the courts were well used until the cold weather set in.
The association has continued to encourage the city to have pickleball shadow lines put on any newly resurfaced tennis courts at Central, Rose and Pioneer Parks, as well as keeping those we have at CastleRock and North Parks.
We currently have over 100 members! Today in Billings, pickleball can be played in major venues across the city. Billings Parks and Recreation sponsors courts, the Elks Club is a tournament venue, fitness clubs and at least one church have their own courts.
Lillis Park Pickleball Courts will get some amenities this year, including interior fencing, a practice board and paddle holder. Seating and a covered area are also in the works. A Ladder League is being planned for BPA members this summer.