Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Pickleballers Look for a Home in Bergen

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Pickleballers Look for a Home in Bergen

Article excerpt

This has been a winter of discontent for pickleball players in Bergen County.

Spring is coming, and the people who love the sport with the funny name fear they won't have a place to play outdoors when the weather turns warm. And that's not funny.

"It's the fastest-growing sport in the country," said Iris Borman, the leader of a loose-knit group of pickleball players who reside in Bergen County. "Yet Bergen County is one of only five counties in the state that has no pickleball facilities. And that's not fair."

Last week, Borman led a group of pickleballers who went to the Bergen County Freeholder Board to beg the county Parks Department to permanently dedicate three or four tennis courts in Overpeck Park in Leonia to their sport. The pickleballers say that unless they have their own courts to play on, a showdown with tennis playersover courts is almost inevitable.

"There were fights last year, and we don't want that again," said Borman, whose group met with Bergen County parks director James Koth last year and came away with a hybrid plan that she said proved to be unworkable.

As one element of the plan, the county allowed the pickleball nets to be stored in a shed at Overpeck, but Borman said that failed because only a few people had the keys.

Still, Bergen County said it plans to stick to the hybrid plan, by adding pickleball striping to five courts in Overpeck and three in Van Saun Park in Paramus.

Bergen County spokeswoman Alicia D'Allesandro said the Parks Department plans to resurface more courts this spring, and "additional hybrid facilities may be designated." Striping is weather-dependent, but the county expects the first set of hybrid courts to be available by May, she said.

Pickleball was invented in 1965 by Joel Pritchard, a congressman who represented a district in Bainbridge Island, outside Seattle, Washington. Pritchard, who is now deceased, took paddles and a Wiffle ball onto the badminton court in his backyard.

It's not clear how the sport derived its strange name; some say Pritchard's wife named it after "pickle boat," a crew term in which rowers from different boats are mixed together. Another version has it that the game was named for the family dog, Pickles, who used to chase after the ball.

Either way, the backyard game has evolved into a full-blown sport, with amateur and professional players and its own U.S. Open in Naples, Florida. There has been a growth spurt in recent years; since 2010, the number of pickleball surfaces has doubled nationwide to around 4,000, according to the United States Pickleball Association.

"Running around the court is much easier in pickleball, because the court is much smaller," said George J. Cheah of Ridgewood, a tennis-player-turned-paddler who heads the 500-member New Jersey Pickleball Association. "There's less stress on the legs and on the rotator cuff. …

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