Pickleball is the hottest Charlotte sport you've never heard of

Plus: Review of Morris-Jenkins book; Atrium revises CMC plans; SouthPark sign mystery solved

Good morning! Today is Monday, January 13, 2020.

Need to subscribe? Sign up for free here (charlotteledger.substack.com). Like what you see? Forward to a friend.


Today’s Ledger is sponsored by StretchLab:

Now open in SouthPark (704.585.8941) and Dilworth (704.703.1480). Assisted stretching may be exactly what you need to relieve that lower back or neck pain ... give us a call!


Fast-growing and addictive sport is ‘like standing on a life-sized ping-pong table’; Group texts for 7:30am pickup games at Sun City

Take tennis, lower the net, sub in oversized ping-pong paddles and a Wiffle ball and put it on a badminton court, and you’ve got the hottest sport you’ve maybe never heard of.

Charlotte, like much of the country, has seen a pickleball explosion in the last five years as aging baby boomers seek ways to stay active that are easier on the body than tennis or running.

And younger generations are catching on, too — so much so that local rec centers, neighborhoods and private clubs can’t seem to build courts fast enough to meet demand.

More and more, tennis facilities are opting to draw extra lines on their tennis courts to make them dual purpose: tennis and pickleball. (Pickleball courts are about 1/3 the size of tennis courts.)

Enthusiasm for the sport is almost cultish. It has changed the lives of people like Dick and Desiré Osman, who at ages 71 and 69 are two local “pickleball ambassadors” who volunteer to spread the love of the game through the USA Pickleball Association.

‘Totally hooked’: Desiré Osman was frustrated with a golf game that was “in the tank” nearly six years ago, so she and Dick decided to try a free pickleball clinic in Matthews. “We’re dinking the ball across the net at each other,” she says, “and we were like ‘oh yeah.’ Within six weeks, we were totally hooked.”

A crowd watches the fast-paced pickleball action at Ballantyne Country Club. The number of Charlotte-area sites with courts has grown from two to 94 in the last six years. (Photo courtesy of Desiré Osman)

Explosive growth: Osman found the pickleball community too fragmented, so she started an email thread to organize local players. Her list has grown from 15 to more than 1,000 and has become a monthly newsletter that circulates up and down the East Coast. As pickleball ambassadors, the Osmans also help maintain a list of places to play in the 11-county Charlotte region. When they started playing, they knew of two local sites with pickleball courts. Now, they’ve counted 94 in the 11-county region — and 30 in Mecklenburg County alone.

Michael Jackson has been the adult athletics recreation specialist with the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department for nearly three years and has seen demand for pickleball skyrocket. When he arrived, there were about 40 players in county pickleball tournaments. Now there are at least 80 who sign up.

Mecklenburg County recently opened the outdoor eight-court John Stevens Pickleball Center at Clarks Creek Park near Mallard Creek, the newest of about eight county facilities where residents can play.

The barrier to entry is low: Pickleball paddles cost less than $50, and anyone can just show up alone on a court and circulate in, like a game of pickup basketball. Matches last between 10-20 minutes, so even if there’s a crowd waiting to play, turns come up often.

Staying power: “That’s what I think really separates pickleball from other sports,” Jackson says. “I don’t think it’s a sport that’ll be here today and disappear in a year or two.”

Leesa Walker ended her 36-year teaching career at Charlotte Country Day last spring to start up Pickleball Charlotte, which operates out of the Sports Connection facility on Granite Street in southwest Charlotte.

Since June, she’s signed up 865 members who take lessons, play in tournaments or come for open play. She estimates that 70% of her members are in the workforce — not retirees — and she’s got a growing group of kids who play in a junior league.

Walker chalks up the sport’s exploding popularity to several factors:

  • It’s quick to learn

  • It doesn’t require a set team or partners (anyone can walk onto a pickleball court and circulate into a match)

  • It’s accessible to both young and old.

‘Addicting’: “Give me an hour, and you’ll feel good about it. You’ll say, ‘I can do this,’” Walker says. “The best analogy I could give you is that it’s like you’re standing on a life-size ping-pong table. Everyone will tell you it’s so addicting.”

And indeed, you’ll find some serious enthusiasts at Sun City Carolina Lakes in Fort Mill, a 55+ community with eight pickleball courts in three different locations around the community.

Residents circulate huge group texts to 50 or more players to organize pickleball meetups. The serious players start around 7:30 a.m. and the courts are humming until dark.

It’s serious business for court resurfacing companies, too.

Kenny Simms of Professional Tennis Court Services says he hadn’t even heard of pickleball until about five years ago. Now, it’s a huge part of his business.

He stopped to chat for a few minutes while resurfacing a clay court at Sun City on a recent sunny afternoon and smiled at the enthusiasm he sees from pickleball players.

“When I’m working on tennis courts, people rarely walk by and interact,” he said. “But the pickleball crowd? They come out a lot and watch and ask questions.”

Mecklenburg County added nearly 21,000 residents aged 55-64 between 2010 and 2017 — the biggest growth of any age category, according to a Ledger analysis of census data. Not all of them are playing pickleball, but a lot of them are.

Book review: Mr. Jenkins told me how to succeed at business

You’ve seen the billboards around town. You’ve heard the radio ads and seen the TV spots — the ones with corny jingles about air conditioning and that are fond of extending the word “gently” in a way that’s vaguely creepy.

But do you know the Morris-Jenkins story? Probably not.

Like a busted compressor, though, that can now be fixed: Mr. Jenkins’ son-in-law has written a new business book about the company entitled, fittingly, Mr. Jenkins Told Me: Forgotten Principles That Will Grow Any Business.

Charlotte banker and friend of The Ledger Nicholas Felten got his hands on a copy and reviewed it. Felten writes:

To my surprise and delight, this book substantially surpassed expectations. Most business books fall into one of two categories. The first is the “New Idea That Will Make You Wealthy” genre, wherein a scholarly type — who’s been published in the Harvard Business Review and is much smarter than you — makes the case for some theory that you’re going to hear about in a process improvement meeting in a year or two if you work for a large enough organization. 

The second type of business book is the “Successful Alpha” genre. This is authored by a Successful Businessperson as a vehicle to recount their many triumphs. You read the exploits of your social betters in the hope that the success will somehow rub off on you. Studies have shown that monkeys will pay money to look at high-status members of their society, and the Successful Alpha genre is often (but not always) a more refined version of this primate predilection. …

Mr. Jenkins Told Me falls into the Successful Alpha genre. Refreshingly, it’s about a man who, unlike [former GE CEO] Jack Welch, does not use financial chicanery to make his mark on the world. He does not impress Wall Street and become a fixture on CNBC, nor is he a genius a-hole who dropped out of college and is now a tech visionary. He is merely is bona fide local entrepreneur who bought a local business and successfully grew it into the Morris-Jenkins HVAC juggernaut we’re all familiar with, and in today’s [nonsense]-heavy environment, it’s a refreshing read.

At 138 pages, it’s also a quick read. It recounts the story of Dewey Jenkins, a navy veteran who moved to Charlotte with just $500 and dabbled in accounting and real estate before buying an obscure local heating and air conditioning company in 1990. He bought the company from Luther Morris, who started it in 1958. Today, Morris-Jenkins has 400 employees and annual revenue of more than $100M.

Felten concludes:

I’m not saying it’s best book ever, or that it will change your life, but it’s certainly better than a lot of tomes in its genre.

You can read his full review of Mr. Jenkins Told Me here. The book is available on Amazon for $17.95 (hardcover) or $4.99 (Kindle).


Atrium revises plans at CMC

Atrium Health has revised its plans for its Carolinas Medical Center campus after hearing the concerns of nearby residents. The health system is seeking a rezoning it says it needs to modernize its 71-acre site. 

According to a new site plan, the healthcare giant has:

  • eliminated the possibility of including a hotel or nursing home

  • limited the number of multifamily dwellings it could build to 425

  • said it could build a “maximum of 42 detached, duplex, triplex and/or quadraplex, dwelling units”

  • lowered the maximum heights allowed on new buildings near neighborhoods toward East Boulevard

  • agreed not to pursue connecting the campus to Fountain View, a residential street off East Boulevard

  • narrowed down for the first time where on the site it would be allowed to build “Colleges or universities, including a medical college and/or a nursing school, and dormitories for the students of any such colleges or universities”

The hospital system hasn’t announced any building plans. The new site plan filed with the city outlines what Atrium might be able to build in the future.

Atrium has been working with Dilworth’s neighborhood association on its plans, but those efforts have hit an interesting twist with the news that about two dozen of the residents who live by the hospital have agreed to sell their houses to a company affiliated with medical-office developer Summit Healthcare, as The Ledger reported last month.


Today’s supporting sponsor is T.R. Lawing Realty

Managing The Details for Individual Owners


In brief:

  • Landing more jobs: Economic developers with the city of Charlotte are pursuing projects that include about 10,000 jobs, assistant city manager Tracy Dodson said last week at a commercial real estate conference. “We’re not taking our foot off the gas when it comes to recruiting and growing the talent,” she said. (Biz Journal, subscriber-only)

  • Patent verdict: Wells Fargo was ordered to pay $103M to USAA after a federal jury found the bank infringed on USAA’s mobile banking patents. “USAA said it had pioneered systems to allow its members to deposit checks from just about anywhere.” Appeal expected. (Bloomberg)

  • No more “SunTrust Park”: The home of the Atlanta Braves is expected to receive a new name on Tuesday. Truist Bank and the ball club are holding a news conference to announce the name, which will replace “SunTrust Park.” SunTrust and BB&T merged last month to become Truist, which is headquartered in Charlotte. They’ll also have to change the name of the Charlotte Knights’ BB&T Ballpark. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  • Faulty school crisis system: A Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools crisis-alert system installed at two dozen schools doesn’t work. CMS agreed to spend $1.75M and “touted the technology from Georgia-based Centegix in press conferences, meetings and public statements even though administrators have known for months that the system often did not operate properly.” Superintendent Earnest Winston said Friday he’s giving the vendor 30 days to fix the problems. (Observer)

  • Tech money: Charlotte tech company AvidXchange has closed on $130M in new funding, according to an SEC filing last week. (WRAL Tech Wire)

  • ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ venture capital: “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance has raised $93M to launch a venture capital firm aimed at investing in “under-served cities such as Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Raleigh-Durham.” He has “been a strong proponent of investing in often-overlooked places.” (Axios)

  • Flu ban: Atrium Health is barring children ages 12 and under from visiting hospital patients because of concerns about the flu. (Atrium)

  • Women work: For the first time in nearly 10 years, women now hold more jobs than men in the U.S. workforce, according to data released Friday. (Wall Street Journal, subscriber-only)

  • Wrist tech: About 21% of U.S. adults say they wear a smart watch or fitness tracker. (Pew Research)

  • SouthPark sign mystery solved:


Loves me some internet

From Reddit, this photo from the BJ’s Wholesale Club in Midtown that was headlined “shout out to the guy who took a whole parking spot for their scooter”:

Replies included:

  • “That parking garage is already miserable!!”

  • “Without question the least practical vehicle for a trip to BJs.”


Taking stock

Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:


Need to sign up for this e-newsletter? Here you go:

Got a news tip? Think we missed something? Drop me a line at editor@cltledger.com and let me know.

Like what we are doing? Feel free to forward this along and to tell a friend.

Archives available at https://charlotteledger.substack.com/archive.

On Twitter: @cltledger

The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.