Pickleballers were back playing on courts — with their own portable nets — at Seaside Park on March 8 and 9, the first days the courts have been open since mid-January. The Recreation and Parks Commission agreed to open the Seaside courts in good weather after two sometimes-heated meetings in February.
“I am so grateful to be able to play pickleball on a beautiful March day,” said James Slavet. “Thank you to Marblehead Pickleball for providing access to such a fun and healthy activity that has been missing from my life lately.”
At a Feb. 28 meeting, Rec and Parks agreed to reopen the Seaside courts immediately (given good weather) to pickleball players who brought their own nets. Rec and Park had closed all the courts (which were partially funded by the nonprofit Marblehead Pickleball) to protect the courts. They cited concerns that the posts holding up the nets year-round were leaning due to the pressure from the nets.
There are more than 400 pickleball players in town, according to Lisa Spinale with Marblehead Pickleball. The nonprofit has raised about $65,000 to help convert four tennis courts at Vets into six dedicated pickleball courts. There are now another four courts at Seaside.
Also at the Feb. 28 meeting, neighbors of the courts at Veterans Middle School complained about the noise from pickleball.
“Within 100 feet of a court, the sound measures 70 decibels,” said Maura Dartley-Rocco, who lives on Vine Street near the Veterans courts. “That’s comparable to highway traffic.”
She went on to say that the noise can cause flight-or-flight responses in people nearby, leading to “diagnosable disorders” like anxiety, and adversely impact the cardiovascular system.
“This is absolutely happening. If this is a science experiment, we are the lab rats,” she said. “We feel, as neighbors, that this is a crisis situation.”
Dartley-Rocco suggested several sound mediation options, including planting arbor vitae trees around the courts or draping so-called sound blankets around the perimeter. Commissioner Linda Rice-Collins said the school superintendent opposed the blankets because they block a clear view of students, which is a safety concern.
Another possibility discussed: attaching a sound blanket to the wall of the school, where pickleball noise reverberates and echoes back to the neighborhood.
Rec and Parks Commissioner Karin Ernst is speaking with an acoustics expert in Easton who works with communities to ameliorate pickleball noise and will invite him out to assess options at Vine Street. Marblehead Pickleball has agreed to donate $250 toward that cost, according to Joe McKane, co-chair of the group.
Rice-Collins pointed out that there are new pickleballs and paddles that are quieter, and she encouraged the players to switch to those.
“This needs to be a team effort, so we can all exist together,” she said.
Rich Newburg, representing the group Marblehead Pickleball, said 95% of pickleballers don’t have the less-sonorous equipment yet and probably won’t until it’s more readily available.
Newburg added that Marblehead Pickleball is “happy to hear solutions.”
“We’re well-organized, vocal —maybe a little too vocal — and we do have funds,” he said.
He suggested the group would be willing to help fund sound mitigation efforts.
“All we want to do is play pickleball without pissing anybody off,” Newburg said.
Adding to the spirit of goodwill in the room, Dartley-Rocco said, “We’re just looking for some neighborhood harmony.”
Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.