The battle lines are being drawn. Pickleball Players are getting a lot of attention from city officials and many public tennis courts are being taken over. Escondido Parks and Recreation maintenance crews recently painted pickleball court lines right on top of some tennis court lines. The tennis community is wondering why they have been relegated to second class citizenship and now they have an even worse problem with court availability.
But there is more to this drama…much more.
Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America because it appeals to a growing population of Baby Boomers. It is a fast game, played with a plastic, wiffle-ball type ball, and it can be conducted on a much smaller court, so players don’t have to run as much or cover as much territory. It is essentially a mega-sized game of ping pong on asphalt.
In fact, in the same space where only four tennis players can hold a doubles match, eight pickleball players can simultaneously be conducting two matches.
Escondido Parks and Recreation managers seek to accommodate both tennis and pickleball players by utilizing existing courts for both purposes. But they seem unaware of the conflicting temperament of the two games.
The tenor of playing tennis is mostly stoic and low-key except for an occasional serving screech or congratulations on a great shot.
Pickleball, on the other hand, is a very noisy and raucous game with both teams yelling encouragement, directions and plays at teammates. The smashing of the plastic ball emits a loud “boink” and the speed of the game can elicit vocal responses as the players lunge for returns or miss sideline passing shots. All of which is great fun!
But it is incredibly annoying to tennis players. Playing tennis next to two foursomes of pickleball players is like playing next to a bull fight!
My wife plays tennis with a regular group, and recently they got into a tense confrontation with a large contingency of pickleball players occupying the adjacent courts. During the course of their matches, they had 16 players on two adjacent courts all screaming and yelling simultaneously, making it nearly impossible for her group to hear themselves think, let alone keep game scores. One tennis player approached a Pickleball Team and asked politely if they could “tone it down a little bit?”
That didn’t go over too well, and the remainder of the morning was peppered with mutterings coming from the pickleball players who consider tennis players to be an annoying minority.
In the meantime there are many unused basketball courts nearby. My question is, if the Parks and Recreation folks think pickleball is the next big thing, why didn’t they convert the unused basketball courts instead of ruining the tennis experience for which the courts were originally built?
Basketball requires team play (typically two teams of five with substitutes along the sidelines, and support personnel to coach, to manage clocks and keep score). Absent thriving basketball leagues, it would make more sense to convert at least half of those courts instead of pushing Tennis Players into the untenable position of being “The Bad Guys.”
Unfortunately, the Escondido Parks and Recreation Department has effectively pissed off both constituents and imposed more traffic than the community parks can accommodate. Other sports like soccer, lacrosse and baseball use enormous amounts of space and require massive maintenance efforts, so why are officials giving tennis the short end of the racket?
Rick Elkin is an Escondido based artist, author and columnist. All of his work including his most recent eBook, “f’d: For Your Own Good” is available at RickElkin.com.