The People’s Court? City Caught in Middle of Volleyball-Pickleball Conflict
On a warm spring night, about 20 Hmong men — most in their 20s — gather at an Einstein Park tennis court to play volleyball.
“The buck stops with me. It’s up for me to find a solution that can accommodate all folks from all backgrounds to play whatever sport they want.” — District 4 councilmember Tyler Maxwell
They bring their own net, set it up, chalk in additional lines and play a friendly if not competitive game. It is part of Hmong culture and comradery, the players say, and is a 15-year Fresno tradition.
On an equally warm spring night, Tina Quillen sits at the Rotary East Park tennis courts — a de facto reservation for the pickleball community. She says there are hundreds of people playing the fast-growing sport in Fresno and Clovis.
Watch: Sports Teams Compete for Space at City Parks
Both groups also like to play at Vinland Park, on Gettysburg Avenue, west of the Highway 168 overpass. They compete for space at the tennis courts. And they are having a difficult time co-existing.
“There were times where we set up a lot earlier than the pickleball community, and I guess they didn’t like that part,” said volleyball player Nathan Yang.
Pickleball players complained to City Hall about the conflicts over court time and also alleged that volleyball players damaged the Vinland courts.
In a move that ultimately backfired, the city placed signs in April at the Vinland Park, Orchid Park, and Rotary East Park tennis courts (all used by volleyball and pickleball players) stating “court use for tennis & pickelball [sic] only.”
The Hmong community took offense to the sign, saying they felt targeted and excluded. Some even called the signs racist.
While the signs were quickly removed, the sting lingers. A city councilman and parks staff are working on a solution.
The issue has led to brief impromptu discussions at two Fresno City Council meetings. The conflict was also formally discussed at the May 2 parks commission meeting.
A Discouraging Sign
Yang enjoys playing volleyball with his friends. He says it connects all of the Hmong community from Fresno to other parts of the country.
“Everyone has a way of connecting either with food or the music or with stories,” said Yang, a 21-year-old sporting goods store clerk.
A big tournament is scheduled for Memorial Day weekend at Calwa Park.
Kalvin Xiong, another young volleyball player, says the city should support such activities.
“The whole community was at least a little bit disrespected, saying that it felt like we weren’t invited to play.” — Nathan Yang, volleyball player
“For many years, teams train and build a relationship at these parks such as Vinland to compete. They are leading the way in sportsmanship, leadership, and teamwork for youth locally and nationally. And this is something that needs to be supported,” Xiong said at the parks commission meeting.
The city said it posted the signs after finding damage at the tennis courts.
“Seeing that sign being posted up was very discouraging to us,” Yang said. “The whole community was at least a little bit disrespected, saying that it felt like we weren’t invited to play.”
Councilman Tyler Maxwell said the signs were wrong, even if unintentionally so. He called it a hasty response from pickleball player complaints.
“I think the city didn’t understand that was racially insensitive to the folks that have been coming out here for a while and playing volleyball because they feel like instead of solutions being presented, it was just a flat, You can’t play here anymore,” Maxwell said.
The City Responds
Just as quickly as the signs went up in April, they came down.
“We never want to make a part of our community feel marginalized. … Obviously putting up a sign without prior outreach to a certain segment of the community could be seen as marginalizing,” Fresno City Manager Georgeanne White said at the April 21 council meeting.
White said the parks department could have been more sensitive. Sensitivity training is scheduled for parks department staff.
The Hmong community organized to let the city know how they felt. The sign was a topic of discussion on Facebook, on the court, and during public meetings.
“We wanted to make a move and fight for what we felt was fair. Understanding that if it’s a public park, I feel like all of us should be able to use it. Pickleball, tennis, volleyball,” Yang said.
The Hmong community offered suggestions on how the city can move forward.
“What the city has done is to further impress the generational trauma of our community and that the Hmong volleyball community itself are undeserving,” Susan Xiong of southeast Asian advocacy group A Hopeful Encounter told the council on April 28.
Xiong, at the parks commission meeting the following week, suggested the city study green space for the Hmong community to use for volleyball.
For Gaonoucci Vang, any sensitivity training has to be real.
“What is the point of tokenizing the training if it’s not implemented? We need to see real change. This issue of discrimination goes beyond District 4 and is rooted in our history here in Fresno,” Vang said.
Pickleballers Want Place of Their Own
“The conflict is is that we have so many pickleball players now and not enough courts to play.” — Pickleball ambassador Tina Quillen
Tina Quillen, a Clovis-based ambassador for USA Pickleball, wants to team with the city on a dedicated pickleball court.
“Pickleball can be played by all ages. … It’s not about how fast you can hit the ball. It’s not about anything more than placing the ball. It’s finesse,” Quillen said. “We have people of all ages, all ethnicities. We have people that are young and old. In fact, there’s over 6 million people playing the sport in this country.”
The game — sort of like mini-tennis with a ball resembling a whiffle ball — has “exploded” in Fresno and Clovis, Quillen said. Up to 32 pickleball players at a time can use a tennis court.
“The conflict is that we have so many pickleball players now and not enough courts to play,” Quillen said.
Quillen supported the city putting up the signs that said courts were for tennis and pickleball only.
“They’ve since taken them down because they misspelled pickleball. But when they put them up again and spell pickleball correctly, it states it’s for tennis and pickleball only. It was said to me that there is a complex not far from Vinland Park that is made especially for volleyball players. Why they aren’t playing there, I don’t know. But it is a problem,” Quillen said.
Quillen suggests the city should also build a dedicated volleyball area as well.
Damage at Local Parks
The city resurfaced several courts in June 2021 at a cost of $15,000 per court.
City manager White said that city staff discovered the damage and it likely was caused by volleyball players.
“Unfortunately, the community took it upon themselves to cause damage to the courts by drilling into the surface to install volleyball poles and to paint lines over the surface that conflicted with the lines that were already down for tennis and pickleball. So that is what prompted the sign,” White said on April 21.
Pictures submitted to the city show cracks on the ground where tennis nets were attached, lines painted on the court, and scuff marks possibly caused by yet another group of recreationists, cornhole players.
“This cost a lot of money that we had to raise money for. It’s our blood, sweat, and tears that went into this to help the city cover the cost. I don’t I just don’t know the answer. I think that’s up to the city to decide,” Quillen said.
Yang has doubts that it is volleyball players causing damage. He says his group respects the courts they use.
When damage happened in the past, parks director Aaron Aguirre said the city would lock the courts. They do not want to do that again.
“Nobody ever accused … any particular group. It’s just that we noticed the vandalism occurred and we want to make sure these newly resurfaced courts were in good shape for all park users. (The sign) was something that was not intended to target any particular group, any particular sporting activity,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre said the city is will install a new type of posts that can adjust in height to accommodate multiple sports. They should be ready by the end of May.
Maxwell supports the new nets and also restriping the courts for tennis, volleyball, and pickleball. He also suggests improving the lights so they also shine on the grass areas around the court. That could offer an alternate location for volleyball games.
Reservations and Insurance
Courts are first-come-first-served, but there is a reservation system no one is happy with.
“I’m deeply dissatisfied with the city’s reservation system. You could go on your phone, you could go to the city’s website and make a reservation. But you have no way to see who has reserved the court. There’s absolutely no way to tell,” Maxwell said.
Pickleball ambassador Quillen says they use the reservation system. There have been times, she said, when volleyball players were on the court.
“They left politely,” Quillen said.
Quillen said there is no way to reserve online.
“We have to call them on the phone and get to the right person and reserve it that way. It’s a little cumbersome, so doing it online would be a little easier,” Quillen said.
If reserving tennis courts is available online, it is difficult to navigate the city’s website.
Maxwell also opposes the requirement of insurance to reserve the court, calling it “arcane and, yes, counterintuitive.”
“I think one of the ways we as a city can be more accommodating is to invest in technology where you could scan something like a QR code to see who has reservations over the court. But more importantly, would be getting rid of this, in my opinion, backwards means of reserving a court which requires you to take out an insurance policy,” Maxwell said.
Quillen was not clear on how the insurance requirement worked when pickleball reserved courts.
Parks director Aaron Aguirre endorsed the QR code idea at a parks commission meeting last week. Park attendants would help enforce reservations.
Maxwell has held one community meeting with the Hmong volleyball players. He has also met with parks department staff.
“We’re also going to be talking about ways that we could repurpose the current courts out there to accommodate our volleyball players permanently going forward, as well as maybe putting up some infrastructure surrounding the existing court to facilitate volleyball games,” Maxwell said on the council dais on April 28.
Another community meeting is scheduled soon.
“The buck stops with me. It’s up for me to find a solution that can accommodate all folks from all backgrounds to play whatever sport they want,” Maxwell said.