Local resident leads fundraiser to light courts at Barlow Farm Park

by Mary McKenna

In the two years since the tennis complex at Barlow Farm Park first opened, pickleball enthusiasts have taken to the courts like dinks to the net. To the casual observer there, the game – which has become one of America’s fastest growing fitness sports – is played rain or shine, until the sun goes down.

Now, thanks to the dedicated fundraising efforts of longtime resident and tennis enthusiast Hugo Sandberg, the complex may soon be playable after dark with the installation of tournament-quality, LED lights.

Sandberg’s dream of a public, illuminated tennis facility in Hudson began over a decade ago with support from the city park board – and nearly came true. Unfortunately, by the time the $1.8-million tennis complex was finally constructed in October 2022, featuring five tennis and 12 pickleball courts, the initial lighting installation just wasn’t feasible.

“Lighting the courts at first phase wasn’t in the cards because of where the economics were with inflation and how much money was available in the budget,” Sandberg said, adding that he was encouraged to learn lighting would be considered at a later date.

Fast-forward to 2023 and the economic climate hadn’t changed much. According to Sandberg, the message from the city was, “if you want lights, you’re gonna have to fundraise,” he said.

It was then, in August 2023, that Sandberg teamed up with the Hudson Community Foundation to begin a public fundraising campaign for court lighting.

“HCF has been great to work with and instrumental in organizing our efforts and getting the word out to potential donors,” Sandberg reported. “They’re also handling donor recognition letters and are keeping us compliant with our charitable tax status.”

Sandberg said his passion for tennis, pickleball and giving back to the community prompted him to go a step further in organizing Hudson’s first-ever Pickleball Classic tournament fundraiser. The tournament took place over Memorial Day weekend from May 24-26 and attracted more than 275 enthusiastic participants to the courts. It raised $20,000 toward the campaign’s “phase one” goal of lighting six of the pickleball courts.

Sandberg explained that the public fundraising goal of $500,000 to light the entire complex, according to the original contractor bid, would have to be split into three phased lighting objectives.

“Phase one is to light one bank of six pickleball courts. Phase two will be to raise funds for the remaining pickleball courts. And phase three will be to light the tennis courts,” he said, adding that those phases are flexible and truly dependent on donor preferences and suggestions.

The fundraising campaign offers multiple giving levels. Sandberg indicated that any donation is welcome. Donors of $250-$1,000 can get a brick installed along the pathways to the complex. Donors of $2,500 and $5,000 can get plaques on the benches surrounding the courts, and donations of $10,000 and above will be recognized on a donor wall installed at the complex entrance, he said.

The tournament, sponsored by Great Lakes Honda & Hyundai, welcomed participants of all ages and skill levels. Featuring various divisions, including men’s and women’s singles, doubles and mixed doubles, the Hudson Pickleball Classic had something for everyone, including clinics taught by certified instructors.

A number of local businesses participated in the Corporate Pickleball Challenge “kickoff” portion of the tournament Friday, including Fortec Medical and Predictive Solutions LLC. In addition, countless families competed in the parent/child and grandparent/grandchild matches that took place Sunday night.

Pickleballer Mike Cargill, who came in second in the men’s doubles early in the tournament weekend, had so much fun he returned with his grandkids to compete again Sunday evening.

“I just had a blast,” he beamed. “I mean, great people, great tournament. It was a lot of fun, and I’ll definitely be back!”

The event not only attracted pickleball enthusiasts but also brought out tennis players hopeful that the lighting project would benefit them as well. Vu Vaughn registered with his son for a spot in the tournament despite the fact that they consider themselves “mainly tennis players,” according to Vaughn. He and his family use the Barlow courts often and are excited about the project.

“The tournament was on Facebook when we saw it and thought, ‘Hopefully they do the lights for here and for the tennis courts, too!’” said Vaughn.

Tournament participants received commemorative shirts designed by Western Reserve Racing, along with coordinating medals given to those who placed first, second and third in their divisions.

“Feedback post-tournament has been extremely positive. Most people mentioned that they would like to see Hudson host another one,” Sandberg said. “This initial event was a success. Future events will depend on the status of our fundraising effort and future support from city leadership.”

For those who missed the tournament but still want to contribute, tax-deductible donations can be made to the HCF Pickleball and Tennis Fund at hudson.fcsuite.com/erp/donate/create/fund?funit_id=3145. Contact Hugo Sandberg for more information at 330-388-3480 or email sandberg.hugo@gmail.com. ∞

Hugo Sandberg was a key player in getting
the tennis and pickleball center built and
has turned his focus to lighting the courts.
Photo by Dan Goodell.

Ben Simmons, 12, competed in the Hudson Pickleball Classic with grandfather, Dale Simmons. Photo by M. McKenna

Vu Nguyen and son Oliver teamed up for Sunday family competition. Photo by M. McKenna

On our cover (photos): Hudson business owner Eric Martin and residents Edward & Jessica Learoyd were among 280 pickleball enthusiasts who came out to the first annual Hudson Pickleball Classic. The Memorial weekend seven included competitions and clinics, including kids lessons by pickleball coach Robert Golsmith. Photos by Dan Goodell.