Hattiesburg, Mississippi – A Pickleball 101 Clinic, a monthly Art Market and improvements at Duncan Lake – all programs of Hattiesburg Parks and Recreation – won top awards at this year’s annual conference for the Mississippi Recreation and Parks Association held in October.
“We are very proud of the creative programming that our department continues to produce,” said Parks and Recreation Director Chris McGee. “Our team – specifically Emily Gallaspy and Nadine Armstrong – and many of our community partners work hard to provide opportunities that add to the quality of life for our residents. It’s an honor to be recognized.”
The department received Awards of Merit in the Program Series category for the Hattiesburg Community Arts Center’s monthly Art Market and the improvements made at Duncan Lake as a part of the AARP Challenge Grant in 2021.
“The work we are doing at the Hattiesburg Community Arts Center is fun and exciting – but purposeful. Receiving an award recognizing what we’re doing to encourage our locals and visitors to take part in our creative economy is a great honor,” said Gallaspy. “None of the work behind the scenes happens without a lot of help and input from our local artists, community partners and many, many volunteer hours.”
Gallaspy shared that since the Art Market debuted in December 2020, more than 250 different art vendors from all over the Southeast have attended. Each market offers free arts and crafts for children. Over the last several months, live music and swing dance lessons have also been added to the agenda of a busy day that promotes all varieties of art.
The Hattiesburg Community Arts Center serves as a launchpad for a lot of innovative programming, but it also partners with organizations to make public spaces more arts-forward. A great example of this is the long list of improvements made to the Duncan Lake area through the AARP Challenge Grant, which included a mural on the recreation building, restoring seating areas and painting stepping stones to establish mosaics around the area.
Gallaspy added, “A collaborative spirit drove our response to the AARP Challenge Grant and the real reward is seeing our community enjoy the upgrades made to the park.”
Program partners included the Hattiesburg Alliance for Public Art, Hattiesburg Landmark Preservation, Visit Hattiesburg, Downtown Hattiesburg Association, USA Dance, Gabriele Smith (muralist) and more than 150 volunteers.
An Award of Merit was also given in the Single Program category for Pickleball 101, a workshop established to educate more in Hattiesburg about the basics of Pickleball. This offering is a part of the department’s innovative programs track, led by Armstrong and coached by a local pickleball player, Kyle Chittenden.
Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing recreational opportunities and Hattiesburg has a growing pickleball community. The sport involves two to four players hitting a perforated hollow polymer ball over a 36-inch-high net using solid-faced paddles. Opponents go back and forth until one side commits a rule infraction.
The initial workshop had a large enough turnout that more clinics were established on a smaller scale – by technique and skill level – to give participants more court time.
“I enjoy teaching others about pickleball because it checks all the boxes for what I think makes a great sport. It provides a ton of healthy movement and exercise, but it’s also very approachable for beginners,” said Chittenden. “The sport can also be mastered and played at a super competitive level.”
This program continues to evolve, and Chittenden is partnering with Hattiesburg Parks and Recreation to make additional clinics and workshops available across a variety of skill levels.
“We were very encouraged by how many people were interested in our initial 101 offerings. Our participants loved it, and we’re thankful to have the facility at Thames Elementary to continue offering more and more opportunities to match the growing demand,” said Armstrong. “Being recognized for a program that really bolsters a growing sport in our community is so nice!”
The next Pickleball 101 clinic will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 2 at Thames Elementary (2900 Jamestown Road) from 6 p.m. until 7 p.m. The class is available to all skill levels. Groups will be divided based on experience. Cost is $3 per and registration is recommended at https://tinyurl.com/mr3ta6kh.
These three programs are just a sampling of recreational opportunities provided to residents and visitors by Hattiesburg Parks and Recreation. To stay up to date on additional offerings, like Hattiesburg Parks & Recreation on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/hattiesburgparksandrec.