INTERNATIONAL badminton player Tara Pilven has swapped racquets in a play to help put squash and racquetball back on the sporting map in Ballarat.
This comes amid big changes at the sports' Wendouree base in a bid to revive community player numbers - including potential to make the courts accessible round-the-clock.
Ms Pilven stepped up as manager at Ballarat Squash and Racquetball Centre a month ago, keen to bring a lot of her ideas across sporting disciplines. While the footwork was a little different to her strength, Ms Pilven was passionate to encourage more people to take up racquet sports.
She looks to build on the work of Russell McLean, who has been promoted to lead the squash and racquetball at the sports' state body.
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Ballarat Squash and Racquetball president David Rowe said, like a lot of sports, the association had to evolve and re-fresh what it could offer to appeal to a modern community player.
The centre has about 260 members - one-third of what the sport had signed up at its peak in the 1980s.
All the time we're looking at ways we can improve. In the early '80s we used to be packed. It's a whole new demographic now with new sports for choice and people being so busy.David Rowe, Ballarat Squash and Racquetball president
"All the time we're looking at ways we can improve. In the early '80s we used to be packed. It's a whole new demographic now with new sports for choice and people being so busy," Mr Rowe said. "Basketball is huge and women's football is growing, there is a lot for younger generations to pick from."
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Ballarat members have been working hard behind the scenes to bring the stadium back up to modernise the centre, including two glass-fronted showcourts from a business led by five-time squash world champion Sarah Fitz-Gerald. The walls are designed to be low-maintenance and look better, without tell-tale paint chipping in cement walls.
City of Ballarat works have also replaced the roof structure over the courts to minimise flooding risks that had troubled the centre for so long. New lighting brightens courts and, on sensors, help to improve energy efficiency. Change rooms and other facilities have been upgraded.
Mr Rowe said these were all important steps to rebuild the sport and move forward in exploring new options for members, like 24-hour, seven-days a week access or similar formats other sports like tennis have introduced to boost players in the game.
The centre consolidated members from the Sebastopol courts, which closed two years ago, but can access extra courts at Woodman's Hill Secondary College.
Ballarat hosted the Australian Masters Squash Championships two years ago with strong volunteer support. Mr Rowe hoped continued renovations would entice more events and awareness of the sport to Ballarat.
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