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Whole new game

Pickleball enthusiasts rally to allow painted lines on tennis courts at Tony Williams Park in Lloyd

by Erin Quinn
February 10, 2011 02:42 PM | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Pickleball photo by Lauren Thomas
Following an American sporting tradition that began in a backyard of then-Congressman Joel Pritchard’s home in Washington State in 1965, a group of 16 Highland residents have organized their own multi-generational pickleball group that plays inside the elementary school during the winter months and outside at the Tony Williams Park tennis courts during the warmer weather.

They are now lobbying the Lloyd Town Board and the Recreation Commission to allow lines to be painted (typically red or orange) at one of the tennis courts at Tony Williams Park so that they can have permanent overlay of a pickleball court to play on.

Jeff Bennett and his wife Rose helped introduce the Highland crew to pickleball when they began playing it during the winter in Florida.

“Pickleball is played a lot in various senior communities in Florida, and my wife and I took to the sport right away, bought some rackets and balls and brought it back home with us,” he said. “We got our kids and nieces involved and then a bunch of friends. We were able to teach 15 people the game in less than an hour -- it’s that simple to learn and is a great form of exercise. Our friends got into it and bought paddles and eventually we purchased a portable net so that we could play wherever we could find a decent court, indoors or out.”

Bennett noted that they soon discovered that there was a similar group in New Paltz that played in a converted basketball-to-pickleball court directly across from St. Joseph’s Church in the village. “New Paltz has pickleball in their high school, so there were always some teenagers and adults there to play and we began playing with them as well.”

The problem, according to Bennett, is that the New Paltz court, while appreciated, is not “maintained at all and is surrounded by very large trees, so we have to come with a blower and clean it up each time we play.”

They also received permission to play inside the Highland Elementary School during the winter months, which they do every Friday night, to help keep their skills honed and to stay in good physical shape.

What they’d like to do, and have made an official request to the Town of Lloyd’s Recreation Director Frank Alfonso, and the Town Board, is to have an overlay of the pickleball lines drawn on one of the tennis courts at Tony Williams Park.

“We love playing there, but each time we play we have to either tape or chalk all of the various lines, which can take 30 to 40 minutes and if it rains at all, the chalk gets washed away.”

Alfonso said that he had spoken with Bennett and said that he would like to see it happen.

“We will definitely paint one of the courts at the Berean Park this spring,” said Alfonso. “I’d like to see it happen at the Tony Williams Park as well, but I need to get permission from the Recreation Commission first.”

He said that he doesn’t believe it will be an issue, but has some concern that tennis players who utilize those courts might be put off by the idea.

“We see tennis courts with overlays of pickleball courts all over the country,” said Bennett. “A lot of our pickleball players are tennis players too, or former tennis players whose bodies can’t handle the intense pounding.”

Bennett said that while his group does play from time to time at Berean Park, that “it has very limited access because it’s closed from Memorial Day through Labor Day and we play from April into November.”

Alfonso said the rec commission meets next Monday and he will follow up on the request.

“I think pickleball is great, I used to coach it at New Paltz where it’s part of their physical fitness curriculum,” Alfonso said. “It’s a sport that’s really catching on.”

In fact, Bennett noted that while a corporation was formed in 1972 to protect the creation of the new sport and its rules and regulations, the pickleball movement has rapidly been growing in popularity.

“Tournaments have been shown on National Television, it was on the Morning Show, the Good Morning America Show … and we want to alert people that we have a group right here in Highland that we encourage them to join. It is fun, it’s easy to learn, it’s a great way to break a sweat and we have all ranges and levels of skills -- we’re a flexible, fun group.”

Asked why pickleball is so attractive to people like himself, Bennett said because “it’s easy to play.”

“The rules are very similar to badminton. We have teenagers playing all the way up to those in their 60’s-plus. It’s a quick way to break a sweat and stay in good shape. It’s like tennis in some ways, but moves a little slower and on a smaller court. We just love running around outside and exercising and having a great time.”

Bennett encouraged anyone who was interested in playing with them, either indoors or outdoors, to contact him at 914-388-0510. “We just really want a court in Lloyd where we can play.”

New Paltz Parks and Recreation will also be sponsoring some pickleballing of their own this winter. Pickleball clinics will be offered on Feb. 12 and 19 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., youth ages 7-12 at the Duzine Elementary School. The cost is $5 for New Paltz Residents and $7 for non-residents. To learn more go to www.townofnewpaltz.org, e-mail Chuck Bordino at recreation@townofnewpaltz.org or call 255-2512.

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