By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
Who would have thought that the origins of a great Shakespearean drama were being resurrected in Ocean Grove where yes, we find ourselves “in a pickle” as the bard first noted in “The Tempest.”
But this pickle here stems from the increasingly popular sport of pickleball and whether some sort of compromise can exist between neighbors who claim the courts are used too much and create too much noise and the pickleball enthusiasts who say it is no more disruptive than tennis. It also boasts a substantial social component that is consistent with Ocean Grove’s mission statement to provide opportunities for recreation and fellowship.
In other words, this isn’t no gherkin and it seems like there is no easy way to escape the brine.
Ocean Grove has had tennis courts since the 1970s, according to Michael J. Badger, president of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association which owns the courts. About four years ago, two of the courts were repainted to qualify them for pickleball play. And what happened after could be defined as a tempest. Consistent with nationwide trends, Ocean Grovers became pickleball devotees. To date, there are 91 families that pay for the right to use the courts, and some months ago, the association began to receive complaints from neighbors who said the play was too disruptive.
“Originally, we had it and it was wide open and that led to some unintended consequences,” Badger said. “Now, we are looking at pulling back.”
According to complainants, the pickelballers were beginning to play very early.
“It was before 7 a.m. on Sunday and they were hearing the whack! whack! whack! of the pickle balls,” Badger said. “When they bought in the area, they were not expecting this.”
So it has become a balancing act and one that that Badger acknowledges still is evolving.
“Pickleball is so popular here that the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association can’t seem to keep up with the growth,” Badger acknowledged
Pickleball is described as a hodgepodge of badminton, tennis, and ping pong. It is typically played with a paddle and a plastic Wiffle ball. It began in 1965 on an island off Seattle when several dads came home on a summer day to find their children bored. They decided a game of badminton would do but could not find a complete set of rackets, They made do with what they could find. Pickleball takes its name – despite an adorable urban legend that it was named for the family dog – from a comment one of the wives made about how the players resembled those of a pickle boat, which is often comprised of mismatched sailors from other crews.
The Camp Meeting Association recently has determined a foam ball would be better for neighbors’ issues but pickleballers say it is not for them:
“Using a foam ball changes the game,’ said Lynn Antonov, who has been playing pickleball here since she moved back to town several years ago. Always an avid tennis player, she found as she got older, tennis was too rough on her arms.
Her story is not unique. According to a November 2021 article from Axios, pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. It has surged in popularity within the last few years and it is also played in Europe and Canada. Pickleball grew by 21.3 percent between 2019 and 2020, leading The Economist to declare it ” the fastest growing sport in America.
The Monmouth County Parks system has added pickleball courts in recent years and there is an indoor Pickleball facility at the Fort Monmouth Recreation Area.
The demand for courts is exploding, say players league officials, and municipal officials.
“What would really help is if Neptune Township made some Pickleball Courts,” Badger said. “People in Ocean Grove pay a lot in taxes and it is really probably a good idea to have varied options open nearby – all within five minutes of the people who live here.”
Neptune officials could not be reached to determine if pickleball is on their long- or short-term recreational agendas.
As for the pulling back” that Badger refers to, it stems from an updated set of rules recently distributed changing the hours of play from 8 a.m. to dusk Mondays to Saturdays and from noon to dusk on Sundays. The most controversial of the amended rules seems to be the mandated use of the “Gamma Quiet Ball’ which is foam and lighter than the traditional plastic Wiffle balls used in most play and is the official ball of the U.S.Open Pickleball Championships. To use anything but the quiet ball will result in loss of Pickleball Club membership, according to the rules.
The new rules also include an appeal for courtesy: “Keep excessive noise to a minimum; use of profanity is prohibited and do not use the courts outside of posted hours,” they state.
But to Antonov, it is about more than the noise of plastic hitting clay Pickleball was conceived as a family sport and to have to play it in near silence puts a pall on the pickle.
Antonov said the club received donated benches so family members and others could watch the play but the club was ordered to get rid of the benches.
Badger said the association has “always posted rules” and they help buy some time so a true compromise can be reached.
“I just think we are evolving and we are going to have to keep learning together,’ he said. “We have to listen, learn, and adapt.”