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Pickleball, Anyone? Seaside Park Is Latest Town to Debate Rules As Sport Explodes

Pickleball courts in Seaside Park, N.J., May 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

Pickleball courts in Seaside Park, N.J., May 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

Pickleball problems made quite a splash last week at Lavallette’s borough council meeting, with members of the governing body deciding against granting a request from a pickleball club that wanted to reserve the borough’s courts from 8 a.m. to 12 noon every day between mid-June and September.

A couple of miles south in Seaside Park, a pickleball row could be brewing as well, as the borough council was also faced with questions on how the sport – growing rapidly in popularity – should be governed along with other recreation activities.

While the debate didn’t delve into the specifics on who gets to use a court at a given time, pickleball aficionados requested the borough council publish rules to be displayed at the entrance to the courts. One resident who spoke said last summer, the courts at the 14th Street recreation complex were sometimes used by the same party for more than 90 minutes “because there was no sign with a rule saying they couldn’t.”

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The borough, Mayor John Peterson said, is open to recommendations on how to best manage the courts.

“I know the Recreation Committee looked at it, adjusted things and wanted some recommendations,” he said.

While, at least last week, there were no changes to any ordinances or resolutions passed to govern the use of the court facility, some council members said they would support reviving a system which used to be in place that required court users to obtain a beach badge for access.

“I think there’s got to be some controls there,” said Councilman Frank “Fritz” McHugh, recalling a previous ordinance that required badges. “Anybody could play on the swings, anybody could play basketball, but there wasn’t that much of a demand. I suppose it depends on the demand, and now there seems to be a big demand with the advent of pickleball.

With a badge requirement would be another requirement that a set of rules be followed by users. The borough council modified its ordinance several years ago to remove the beach badge requirement from its then-tennis courts. The previous ordinance required badges for a number of activities in town, including mooring a boat alongside the bay beach. While the requirement is no longer in place, the borough’s recreation director, who was at the meeting, said another ordinance that governs beach badges already mentions that they can be used for both beach access and recreational facility access.

Pickleball courts in Seaside Park, N.J., May 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

Pickleball courts in Seaside Park, N.J., May 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

Other council members said such a system would be difficult to enforce without hiring additional employees, plus the extended hours the courts remain open.

“Beach badges are out of the question,” said Councilman Ray Amabile. “I don’t think we could possibly enforce beach badges from 8 in the morning until 10 at night.”

“Are we going to put a sign up saying, ‘we require a badge, but we don’t enforce it?’” he added.

McHugh said such rules are often self-enforced, and most people do follow them.

“It was a rule, a bit on the honor system, but we could send someone over every once in a while to check,” he said.

Councilwoman Gina Condos also opposed the badge system.

“For one thing, it’s not a beach,” she said. “I’m not in favor of the badges, because we’d need someone there to check the badges.”

Condos said she would, however, like to see a time limit and some basic ground rules to ensure players are courteous.

“I’d like it to be a more positive spin rather than a list of all the things you can’t do,” she said, suggesting the installation of “paddle saddles,” small holders for pickleball paddles (racquets) that represent a person’s place in line to play a match. “They’re much more visual, and people who play the game understand it.”

The council held its pickleball discussion during a work session meeting held before its regular meeting last week. Though no new policies were adopted, it’s clear that pickleball’s popularity has reached yet another island town, and a few new rules could be on the way before summer begins.

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