Pickleball craze grips Marblehead

Betty Londergan and Joe McKane play pickleball at the Veterans School courts.

Pickleball fever is rising here in Marblehead, as more players pick up paddles and the town converts additional courts to keep up with the demand.

“I love the athletic part of it and the social part,” said Lisa Spinale of Marblehead who plays on the pickleball courts at the Veterans Middle School seven mornings a week. “There’s competition and camaraderie. We laugh and laugh. And you know laughter reduces stress.”

Spinale says she’s one of hundreds of people who play regularly as part of the group Marblehead PIckleball.

In 2018, players started fundraising to help the town convert four tennis courts at the Veterans School to dedicated pickleball courts (meaning they’re lined for pickleball only). So far, they’e raised $55,000.

In partnership with the Marblehead Recreation & Park Department, they’ve created six courts at Vets and four more are being repurposed from a tennis court at Seaside Park.

Pickleball players compete at the Veterans School.

A pickleball court is 20 feet by 44 feet for both singles and doubles, so four pickleball courts can fit in one tennis court. The net is 34 inches tall in the middle.

The game is played with a perforated plastic ball (usually a Wiffle Ball) and a special wooden paddle about twice the size of a ping-pong paddle.

At the Veterans School, players show up every morning from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., year round. Some come back for afternoon games  On a recent Thursday, they ignored steamy temperatures and a heat advisory, taking breaks to sit in the shade and drink water.

Joe McKane with Marblehead Pickleball

“On Saturdays and Sundays, the courts are filled,” said Joe McKane, who heads the group. 

McKane explains the appeal, especially to older folks.

“It’s easy to play; you don’t run a lot,” he said. “Each game goes to 11 points and lasts 15 to 20 minutes.”

Betty Londergan plays four or five times a week.

Betty Londergan plays with Joe McKane.

“I got obsessed with it,” she said. “It’s great exercise, and it doesn’t massacre your knees. It’s very engaging. It’s strategic. You always have to keep your eye on the ball and focus.”

The JCC has just created four new pickleball courts on its campus. (The J’s courts are open to members, and guests for a fee of $5.)

“We were having so much interest over the winter in our indoor pickleball that we knew this would be a big hit,”  said Karen Robinson, the JCC’s PR and marketing director. The JCC also offers lessons.

The YMCA runs indoor pickleball games in its gymnasium, but not in the summer months.

The pickleball craze in Marblehead reflects a nationwide trend. Pickleball is the nation’s fastest growing sport with about 5 million people playing it.

Pickleball is now the fastest-growing sports in America.

And it’s not just for seniors anymore. The average age of players is now 38 years.

“I played with a ninth-grader the other day,” said Spinale.

While many of the core Marblehead Pickleball players just show up at the Veterans School courts to play, Marblehead Rec & Park asks that people use the free, online registration form to reserve a court. You can find that HERE.

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Editor Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter.

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