It started three years ago with just a handful of senior players from the Marine Park Active Adults group at the Carmine Carro Community Center who were interested in playing pickleball, one of the fastest-growing sports in the country.
In a few weeks, the numbers grew to more than five times that amount and it hasn’t stopped since. Now, it has expanded even further with the use of a new sports app that brings in players of all ages from across the city.
Pickleball has been compared to a cross between badminton, tennis and ping pong and is played with a paddle and a plastic ball with varying numbers of holes, on a 20’ x 48’ court that accommodates four players.
“To me, pickleball is like life,” Phil Morvitz, 72, said. “I feel better as a person.” Like many seniors there, Morvitz talked about what it was like to be semi-retired and sitting around without much to do. Then he started coming to pickleball three years ago and began socializing and running around. His mental and physical health, as well as his social life, improved. It also gave him something to look forward to when he got up in the morning.
Richard Asaro, 81, credited pickleball with saving his life. He was playing when he noticed that he was unusually tired and breathing hard. He went to his doctor, discovered that he had blockages in his arteries and had triple bypass heart surgery in March. He can’t wait to get cleared by his doctor to play again.
But it’s not just seniors anymore. Over 400 people – of all ages and from all over – who are interested in playing pickleball at Marine Park have registered on the TeamReach sports app that the group has adopted to organize and schedule their sessions. Visit nycpickleball.com to find the area-specific code to sign onto the TeamReach app.
Both founders of the Marine Park Pickleball Group – Bob Spieler, 79, and Michael Chaiet, 71, – have worked with the NYC Parks Department to ensure that the growing number of players’ needs were met over the years, but it hasn’t been easy.
They started playing on a handball court that was converted into two pickleball courts, which were painstakingly swept, marked out with tape and set up with nets each time they played. There was a lot of overcrowding and an arrangement was made with Parks to use two handball courts at Dr. John’s Playground on Gerritsen Avenue and Avenue X instead.
The courts were so overgrown that you’d have to put a lawnmower over it,” Chaiet said. “It’s the only place you’d have to mow concrete.” There were also numerous cracks in the pavement, signs of vandalism, graffiti, and broken concrete and glass strewn about.
It was not only a playing issue, but a safety one as well, so about a year ago, the group was given four pickleball courts that were converted from a single tennis court at the southern end of the tennis court area in Marine Park. It would be fine if their numbers had remained the same, but their numbers have now burgeoned to over 400 interested players, and as many as 45 players may come with the hopes of getting some playing time on the courts, which can only accommodate 16 players at a time from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
There are plans to build two new pickleball courts in the J.H.S. 278 playground area closer to the Carro Center, but that won’t happen for years and the players need more space to play their game now. They would like to have the two tennis courts next to the one they are currently using and have the lines redrawn on all the courts so that the dimensions allow more space between courts for a total of 10 pickleball courts with permanent nets.
Chaiet explained that it would be the ideal arrangement because the tennis courts are built in groups of three and the area is contained on all four sides with fencing, separating them from the other fenced-in tennis court sections. As a social sport where players often switch in and out of each other’s courts, it would allow for the close socialization that is a major attraction of the sport. Ten pickleball courts could accommodate 40 players vs. three tennis courts that can only accommodate six to 12 players.
Lifelong Marine Park resident Mike Burns, 69, has lived in the area for 50 years and knows how long it takes to complete projects because he’s lived through park renovations in the past. He’s concerned that many of the players may not be around long enough to see the changes that are needed. He thinks that the tennis courts are being underutilized and the extra pickleball courts can be quickly and easily converted with little expense.