Relishing Pickleball: Commission Votes to Re-Open Courts
8:50 PM UPDATE: The Picklers scored a partial victory tonight when the Recreation and Parks Commission voted to conditionally re-open the dedicated Pickleball courts at Veterans School. Beginning on February 21st, provided that there is school approval and weather permitting, those who bring their own nets may play pickleball on the courts. Should there be snow or ice, the Recreation and Parks Department will lock the courts, and notification will be made through the Town’s field closures alert system.
For the vast majority of the meeting–and despite the impassioned pleas of local pickleball aficionados–the Commission appeared firm in not wanting to consider any re-opening of the courts until the Commission’s next meeting, which is tentatively set for February 28th. But then member Rossana Ferrante made a motion to conditionally re-open the Veterans School courts in two weeks, and the motion was seconded and passed unanimously.
“We came in here not having any power, we were basically locked out,” Marblehead resident and enthusiastic pickleball player Paul Shepard told Marblehead Beacon after tonight's meeting. “And…with the results here, we can bring our own nets… There are two or three people that changed their tune to work with us, and to me, open[ing] the courts…on the 21st is a victory for us,” he added. “We went from being locked out for the whole winter to now we…can use the courts.”
Marblehead’s pickleball scene mirrors those from around the country: happy, energetic, and filled with friendships that transcend age. For Lisa Spinale – Marblehead resident and co-chair of Marblehead Pickleball – the game is a five-day-per-week activity. “We’re junkies for pickleball,” she tells Marblehead Beacon, referring to herself and the 300-plus local players who are part of her and co-chair Joe McKane’s email newsletter group. “We have the most dedicated courts of any town in this part of Massachusetts,” Spinale says, “which is ten courts: six at Vets and four at Seaside.”
The pickleballers had a rude awakening several weeks ago when unceremoniously, the courts at both the Veterans Middle School and Seaside were locked up. “The Recreation and Parks Department does such a fabulous job,” Spinale says. “And we respect that they just resurfaced the courts at Seaside,” but neither she nor McKane understand the rationale for closing the Veterans courts. “I know they said liability is why, but that doesn’t make sense,” says McKane. “They kept the courts open the last couple of winters and if liability was an issue then they’d close off the basketball courts too.” Spinale notes that the Marblehead High School tennis courts remain open, while the ones at Veterans were closed on January 18th.
The pickleballers are so dedicated that together they raised north of $50,000 in 2018 and 2019 to install dedicated pickleball courts at the Veterans School in October of 2019. Spinale says this represented the bulk of the cost of the construction. The courts are strictly for school use until 2:30 every weekday, but available to pickleball players after those hours as well as on weekends and holidays.
The group is incredibly frustrated with the decision by the Recreation and Parks Department to close the courts. “I had one woman come up to me and tell me that skiing for her young family for one weekend cost $1,200,” says Spinale. “So expensive.” Whereas pickleball, she notes, is free and a great activity for families. The players enjoyed the last several winters playing – even when players were required to wear masks – which makes last month’s decision to completely shut down the courts especially hard.
These court closures come at a great cost to everyone who plays – including the many retirees and older residents who have maintained healthy routines and developed friendships through engaging in the game so regularly, the players say. Spinale is hoping that, at a minimum, a middle ground can be found. For instance, she says, if there is ice or heavy snow on the ground on a given day, the Town can lock up the courts that day. But why, she asks, should they be closed for the remainder of the winter?
Marblehead Beacon reached out to the Commissioner and Superintendent of the Recreation and Parks Department for comment. They could not be reached before publication.
Tonight there will be a meeting held at the Community Center, and on the agenda is the matter of the pickleball courts’ closures. Spinale, McKane, and the many in their tight-knit group are hopeful that the decision to close down both Seaside and Veterans pickleball courts will be reversed.