AVALON – The New York Times, Forbes, and NPR have all dubbed pickleball the fastest-growing sport in America. It’s a curious blend of tennis, Ping-Pong, and badminton that appeals to enthusiasts of all ages.
Passions run high when it comes to pickleball as Stone Harbor discovered in early 2022 when the borough instituted a new fee structure, which sparked anger among some borough residents. Things settled down, but the experience showed how easy it is to hit a nerve with lovers of the sport.
In Avalon in October 2022, then-Mayor Martin Pagliughi announced the borough would host an Association of Pickleball Players (APP) tour stop in September 2023. The tournament that is part of the new APP New Jersey Classic is scheduled for Avalon’s 8th Street sports complex.
During the announcement of the APP tournament, Pagliughi said the borough would double the number of pickleball courts at the complex. The most advantageous spot for those new courts was in space that already housed three tennis courts. That did not sit well with the borough’s tennis enthusiasts.
In October, the New York Times ran a story entitled, “Pickleball Is Expanding. Tennis Is Mad.” The gist of the story was pickleball’s intrusion onto space formerly dedicated to what is sometimes called “the sport of kings.”
Pickleball is a newcomer that is suddenly competing for recreation dollars and, more importantly, space to accommodate its seemingly endless growth.
Tennis had its origins as court tennis in the middle ages when it was played indoors by royals who could afford the structures needed to house the sport. One newsletter by tennis advocates urges people to “oppose the gangrenous spread of pickleball at every turn.”
Things never got that bad in Avalon, where the borough always expressed a commitment to meet the needs of both player communities. However, at a meeting of Avalon Council, Aug. 25, the issue was the dominant one during public comment.
The comments followed a report to council by Administrator Scott Wahl, who underscored the intent of the borough to maintain three tennis courts at the 8th Street complex. Wahl said the existing three tennis courts would be converted to seven pickleball courts adjacent to the existing 10 courts. The borough would then construct three new tennis courts at a more southern location in the complex.
Wahl said funds have already been identified for the construction of the tennis courts and they exceeded the “conservative engineer’s estimate” for the project.
What followed during public comment was reaction from several residents who came to the podium to thank the borough for providing assurance to the “tennis community” that there would still be three tennis courts in the complex by the next summer season. One resident said the issue had become “toxic” and she was happy that they could end “fighting with each other.”
Katie Simone, who said she was a leader of the “8th Street tennis group,” said her group numbers as many as 150 individuals who keep the three tennis courts busy all day during the season. Simone asked what happens if the bids come in higher than the funds set aside for the project. Wahl explained different ways in which the council could still fund the project and move ahead.
The meeting ended with those in attendance agreeing that the borough has developed a satisfactory plan to please both racket-loving communities.
Contact the author, Vince Conti, at email@example.com.