After sparring, Rec & Parks compromises with pickleball fans

After a few heated exchanges with diehard pickleball players, the Recreation and Parks Commission reversed its decision to close all pickleball courts until spring and settled on a compromise. The six courts at Veterans School will reopen on Feb. 21 for players who can bring their own nets. In snowy or icy weather, the courts will be locked. The newer courts at Seaside will remain closed.

Pickleball fans flooded the Rec & Park commissioners with emails and calls to get the courts re-opened.

Rec & Parks Commisison member Matt Martin (in blue shirt): “I’m at my wit’s end” CURRENT PHOTO: LEIGH BLANDER

“I had someone call my cell phone while I was on vacation, aggravated that the nets are down. I’m getting badgered about pickleball nets,” said Commission member Matt Martin. “There’s a balloon flying over the Carolinas, but we’re worried about pickleball nets. I’m at my wit’s end with pickleball chatter.”

Martin later apologized for his comments.

There are more than 400 pickleball players in town, according to Lisa Spinale with the group Marblehead Pickleball. The nonprofit has raised about $65,000 to help convert four tennis courts at Vets into six dedicated pickleball courts. Just this fall, the group partnered with Rec & Parks to create four additional pickleball courts at Seaside.

“The first courts opened in 2019 at Vets, and those nets have been up since then, except for two months during COVID,” Spinale said.

Players wanted to know why that changed this winter.

Commission member Linda Rice-Collins explained that the contractor who worked on the Seaside courts pointed out that the posts holding up the nets were leaning due to the pressure from the nets. The contractor recommended taking down the nets for a period of time each year to preserve the posts.

The Commission also said it wanted to close the Seaside courts in the winter to preserve the courts’ new surface. 

Spinale said she “respected” the decision about Seaside, but asked that Vets be reopened.

Pickleball fans playing at Vets before the courts were locked. COURTESY PHOTO

“We’re like junkies,” she said. “It’s like you locked our gym.”

Several other pickleball players spoke at the meeting, including Betsy Morris.

“I brought my kids up in town, and they played on the playgrounds,” she said. “I’m 85 years old, and now I’m the kid who wants to play. I hope you’ll reconsider.”

After about an hour of discussion, Commission member Rossana Ferrante made the motion to open the courts on Feb. 21, as long as players bring their own nets and there’s no snow or ice. Portable pickleball nets cost anywhere from $50 to $2,000. The decision is pending approval from the Veterans School principal and superintendent.

When one player asked why the courts couldn’t open on Feb. 18, a Friday, rather than Feb. 21, an exasperated Commission Chair Derek Norcross replied, “Just push, push, push.”  

While some players were disappointed the courts won’t open sooner, most seemed satisfied with the decision.

“We’re making baby steps and progress,” Spinale said.

Ginger Devlin and Lisa Spinale don’t let the cold stop them from playing pickleball.

“The meeting ended on a positive note,” said Paul Shepard. “Hopefully, they’ll come play with us.”

Pickleball is the nation’s fastest growing sport with about 5 million people playing it. And while its popularity started among older players, the average age is now 38.

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. 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.

To learn more about Marblehead Pickleball, visit

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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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