Growing Wayne County’s pickleball community was important to Randy Buhl, who enjoyed playing the sport locally as well as all over Indiana.

New pickleball courts in Cambridge City now pay tribute to the enthusiastic athlete.

After the 57-year-old’s unexpected passing in January, many friends and family contributed in Randy’s memory to Golay Community Center at 1007 E. Main St.

Those gifts, along with a $15,000 grant from Wayne County Foundation, made it possible sooner than expected for Golay to resurface two rarely used, aging basketball courts next to the building into high-demand pickleball courts.

Additional donations from Golay members provided fencing between the new pickleball courts. A bench also has been dedicated in Randy’s memory.

“The board can’t thank them enough,” said Jeff Mardis, Golay’s executive director.

The new courts can be accessed through the meeting room that’s also used for elections and other community events.

Golay now has a total of five outdoor pickleball courts and three indoor courts. Players using the previously established outdoor courts draw attention from passersby near the intersection of U.S. 40 and Indiana 1 on the center’s southeast corner.

Some days, 10 or 12 players gather at Golay for pickleball, and other days, it’s closer to 30, especially during fall, spring and winter breaks from work and school.

Golay’s executive director, Jeff Mardis, said staff are always trying to grow the center, and he doesn’t see enthusiasm for pickleball going away. He also wants to reassure those who enjoy basketball that they can still play hoops indoors at Golay.

Randy and Mardis grew up together in western Wayne County. During their youth in the 1970s and ’80s, they spent nearly every Saturday and Sunday playing basketball and enjoying other recreation opportunities at Golay. Randy spent many years playing tennis and would help anyone conditioning at Golay for that sport if desired.

Front left to right: Julie (Randy’s wife), Diana Buhl (Randy’s mom); standing in back left to right: Libby Buhl (Randy & Julie’s daughter), Ben Bertsch (Libby’s fiance), Lisa Stokesbury (Randy’s sister). Supplied

Randy and Julie’s daughter Jamie introduced the sport to her parents four years ago. All three of the Buhls’ children had played tennis for Lincoln High School, and longtime coach Elizabeth Wonsetler invited Jamie to play. Daughter Libby and her fiance, Ben, also have encouraged their friends to start playing.

After Julie discovered she loved pickleball, she encouraged Randy to give it a try. Julie said pickleball players are a very welcoming group and will take time to teach beginners.

Pickleball filled Randy’s need for sport when he had to give up high-impact activities such as basketball, Julie said.

Mardis said players don’t have to be great athletes to enjoy the gentler sport.

“You don’t know you are exercising, but you are,” Mardis said.

Julie said pickleball is the world’s fastest-growing sport, drawing young adults and retirees and those in between. It’s now being televised on ESPN and could soon become an Olympic sport, she noted.

In addition to playing mixed doubles with Julie, Randy enjoyed men’s doubles tournaments and league play.

“He would play seven days a week if he could,” Julie said.

Randy traveled frequently as a salesman, packing athletic clothes and pickleball gear in his vehicle to be ready whenever he had an opportunity to play in locations ranging from northern Indiana to Evansville and Effingham, Illinois.

He also frequently competed in locations closer to home such as Richmond, Indianapolis, Anderson, Connersville, Laurel and Greensburg.

Despite Randy’s enthusiasm for testing his own pickleball skills, he focused on the fellowship of the sport and made a lot of friends along the way. Julie and Jeff describe the hobbyists as a close-knit community.

Many of Randy’s pickleball buddies traveled from around the region to pay their respects to his family at the local funeral home.

Mardis describes Randy as an “awesome guy who always put a smile on your face,” and said he will never be forgotten.

A pickleball tournament will be organized at Golay in Randy’s name next spring. Proceeds benefit an LHS scholarship recognizing the 1984 alumnus.

Julie said Randy would be very proud of the new courts and the upcoming tourney.

“I can’t think of a better way to honor him,” she said.

Additional court support

Golay Community Center is not the only local recreation spot to improve its pickleball offerings.

Richmond Senior Recreation Center received a $10,000 grant from Wayne County Foundation to resurface its courts. Those courts, which include newly installed fencing, reopened Sept. 25.

In September, Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce recognized Forest Hills Country Club in Richmond through its Community Improvement Awards for Forest Hills’ new Primex Activities Center that overlooks the club’s new pickleball and tennis courts.

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A version of this article appeared in the October 25 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.