A peck of picklers pack selectboard meeting

Around 50 people attended the Monday, Aug. 14, selectboard meeting and a large portion of them were pickleball players.

They had come to represent for their sport and to support the transition of one of the three tennis ball courts at the town beach into two pickleball courts.

The picklers (as aficionados of the sport are sometimes known) waited patiently until late in the selectboard proceedings before the paddle-sport portion of the agenda came to pass.

Initially, the picklers went to a recreation commission meeting where they asked to have one tennis court changed into four permanent pickleball courts, but when objections were raised by tennis players, the group compromised. At the suggestion of selectboard member Frank Tenney, who attended that meeting, they shifted their ask from four to three courts.

Three courts were what was approved by the recreation commission, and the issue was sent on to the selectboard for its approval of this modification of a work order for court renovation that had been already contracted out.

However, the pickleball proponents came to the selectboard meeting with their request reduced even more — to two permanent pickleball courts to replace one tennis court.

Steven Wisbaum, who has been at the forefront of the pickleball push, said the day after the rec commission meeting a group of players set up their temporary posts at the court. And they found that, what might have been a good compromise in theory, didn’t look like such a good idea in reality.

“It wasn’t going to be good for either the tennis players or the pickleball players just because the way it set up,” Wisbaum told the selectboard.

Consequently, his group thought two courts would actually be better than three.

Pickleball would still be able to be played on the other two tennis courts at the town beach with temporary courts with nets the picklers bring, set up and take down when they’re finished.

The group has said that there is something better about the playing experience on permanent pickleball courts, besides avoiding the chore of hauling equipment around.

“That’s the proposal for now, which was basically what the tennis players were for initially. We’ve reached out to the players who had voiced opposition against four courts,” Wisbaum said. “The players, I’m aware of, all said two courts is fine.”

Recognizing that the change to the $21,720 court resurfacing work for the tennis courts the selectboard approved in June would increase the already allocated cost, the picklers decided to get out of that pickle by raising commitments for donations to cover the approximately $4,000 cost overrun.

In just one day of seeking donations to pay for the added expense, Wisbaum said his group received commitments for $6,000, more than enough to cover the extra cost.

Wisbaum said their urgency about the issue is because resurfacing and repainting of the courts is scheduled to begin later this month or in early September.

Although the pickleballers can play on all three tennis courts, the policy the players adhere to is, that when people show up to play tennis, the picklers finish their game and relinquish it to the tennis players. He said pickleball games are much shorter than tennis matches, lasting from 5-15 minutes, so they are off the courts quickly.

There were a number of tennis players who had opposed the change of one tennis court into four pickleball courts at the recreation commission meeting but none showed up for the selectboard meeting. Tenney was upset that tennis player opposition emails had not been included in the packet of information about the issue given to the selectboard.

Although selectboard members called out several times to tennis players or others who might be opposed to changing one tennis court into two pickleball courts, no one spoke up to object, either in person or on Zoom.

Selectboard member Louise McCarren said that change is hard and she has been contemplating how the town will manage change, but it was “kind of silly that it’s pickleball versus tennis.”

“I’m a rabid tennis player. I really appreciate the compromise,” McCarren said. “I just think that together we have made a good step forward because we’re going to have to manage a lot more change than this.”

Ultimately, the board voted 3-0 to approved a change to the work order that will be paid for “by the pickleballer community.”

Tenney abstained from voting because he wanted more information. Kelly Devine was absent.

Shortly after the work order change was passed, the town hall emptied, leaving just the selectboard and town administrator Dean Bloch.