George Austin – Aug 21, 2019
SOMERSET — Resident Barbara Henson and three other women came to the Playground and Recreation Commission meeting last Tuesday to ask for a place in town to play pickleball.
Henson, who lives at 75 Longhill Ave. and has been a resident of Somerset since 1971, said people from 10 to 85 years old can play pickleball.
“Pickleball is definitely a good way to have fun, get moving and stay in shape,” Henson said.
Pickleball is played with what looks like big Ping Pong paddles and a ball that is similar to a Wiffle ball. The sport combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis. The inventor of the sport named it pickleball because he had a dog named Pickles that fetched the ball.
Henson said the number of places to play pickleball has increased, but there is no place designated to play the sport in Somerset. She said she wanted a place in town where lines could be painted for a pickleball court. She asked if an old tennis court at Pierce Beach Park that is no longer used for tennis could be made into a pickleball court. She said she was not asking for any money for a pickleball court.
Resident Laurie Rapoza said she has played pickleball in Rehoboth. She said the Swansea YMCA has a place to play pickleball indoors and there are locations to play pickleball in Bristol, Barrington and Tiverton in Rhode Island. She said it would be “wonderful” to have a designated area in Somerset for pickleball.
“It’s not a very well known sport but it’s becoming very popular,” Rapoza said.
Rapoza said the women who went to the meeting last week are willing to paint the lines for a pickleball court and bring their own nets, if they need to.
“I’m sure it would be very well utilized,” Rapoza said.
Kerry Mello, who lives on Massachusetts Avenue, said she has been playing pickleball for a little over two years. She said she has played at a tennis club in Dartmouth and at the Swansea YMCA. Mello said they have built six pickleball courts in Mashpee. She thought the best option for locating a pickleball court in Somerset was to paint some lines on the tennis courts at Somerset Berkley Regional High School. She said when she drives by them, she does not see anyone playing tennis. Mello said if lines for pickleball courts were painted on the SBRHS tennis courts, they could be used for either tennis or pickleball and still could be used for physical education classes at the high school.
Doug Chapman, the SBRHS boys’ tennis team coach, said that under no circumstances would permanent lines for pickleball be put on the high school tennis courts.
Chapman said someone defaced the high school tennis courts by drawing pickleball lines with chalk on them recently. He said the person was also drawing on the court to keep score. He said security cameras monitor the courts. Chapman said if rain did not wash the pickleball lines off the courts, the person who drew them could have been charged by the police.
Chapman said there had been a proposal to put four courts on the Somerset Middle School property that could be used for quick start tennis or pickleball, which both are played on a smaller court than is used for tennis. He said he is not against pickleball. Chapman said he would like to see if the school department could get that project going again and see if there is still grant money available for it from the United States Tennis Association. He said there are already drawings of what the courts could look like at the middle school. Resident Sharon Sullivan-Puccini said a building project on the middle school property could delay the courts. The school district is currently having a study done that could suggest a new school, renovations of the current building or an addition as options to address problems at the middle school. Chapman said courts at the middle school could also be used by the nearby South School and physical education classes at the middle school.
On Monday night, Chapman said all six tennis courts were in use at the high school and people were waiting to use them. He said the courts are also filled on Thursday nights and thinks it is getting more popular to use the courts again because of the lighting that the courts have. He said two women asked if they could play pickleball on them and he said yes. Chapman said they just can’t draw lines on the courts. He said they could get throw-down lines to put on the courts. He said chalk can damage the surface of the tennis courts.
“Those are expensive tennis courts,” Chapman said.
Chapman said the Pierce Beach court could be a solution for pickleball. He said that court no longer has a tennis net or posts for the net and is so old, it hardly looks like a tennis court anymore.
Recreation Director Barry Fontaine said anyone who wants to conduct organized activities on fields or courts in town has to get permits from the Recreation Department. He said he is not opposed to pickleball. Fontaine said he has talked about using the old tennis court at Pierce Beach Park for different activities. He said pickleball could be played there. Fontaine said an old court at O’Neill Field also could be used for pickleball. He noted that if a court is on school property, the public can’t use it during the day when school is in session.
Playground and Recreation Commission member Robert Camara, who is a former Somerset School Committee member, said that in general, the public should not be on school properties during school time to use courts, because they may be used by physical education classes, but another place in town could be found for pickleball courts.
Fontaine said the condition of the court at Pierce Beach Park is terrible. He said there are cracks in the court. Henson said the cracks could be filled in.
Playground and Recreation Commission member Joshua Darlington said a non-profit organization could be started by the pickleball players. Camara said the pickleball players could have a league and could obtain a permit from the town that would designate a court for pickleball at certain times when no one else would be allowed to use it.
Henson said she does not want to start a pickleball league. She said she just wants to practice the sport and have fun. She said she doesn’t want to be competitive with pickleball. Henson said she lost 22 pounds during the first year she played pickleball.
Rapoza said the Rehoboth Council On Aging has provided paddles and nets to play pickleball.
“It’s just a wonderful way to get together,” Rapoza said.
Playground and Recreation Commission member Stephen Boland said people have to pay to park at Pierce Beach Park. Henson said that senior citizens can get free passes to park there. Boland said the location at O’Neill Field where a pickleball court could be placed is not handicapped accessible.
Darlington said that the courts at Pierce Beach Park and O’Neill field would need to be resurfaced in order to use them for pickleball. Fontaine said it would cost $13,000 to resurface the court at Pierce Beach Park. Henson asked why the cracks in the court couldn’t just be filled in and the court used now.
Boland said the town will have to inspect the court at Pierce Beach Park to make sure it is safe to use. Fontaine said he could not dedicate funds to fill in cracks on the court at this time. Maryellen Aspden, the chair of the Playground and Recreation Commission, said the last thing she wants is for someone to twist an ankle or break a bone on the court. Chapman said pickleball is the number one sport for injuries because senior citizens hurt their achilles and other areas of their bodies. He said it also hurts when someone gets hit in the eye with the ball that is used in the sport. She said the court has to be looked at to make sure it is safe. She said the fencing around the court also has to be inspected. Chapman said the commission could get an estimate from a company in Newport to fill in the cracks and make the court playable and safe without resurfacing it. Boland suggested that the court be inspected by the highway superintendent, building inspector and Fontaine to see if it is safe to play on. Fontaine said they have to make sure there is no liability to the town.
Fontaine said a pickleball court, tennis court, basketball court and skate park all could be located at O’Neill Field where there could be lights so they could be used at night. But he said they need to take baby steps in developing such a project. In the meantime, he said they could have a temporary solution for where pickleball could be played.
Boland said the women could also apply for Community Preservation Act funds from the town to build a pickleball court. They would need approvals from a committee and town meeting voters to get those funds.
The commission voted to assess the courts at Pierce Beach Park and O’Neill Field for safety.
Content retrieved from: https://www.southcoasttoday.com/special/20190821/pickleball-players-want-place-to-play.