A group that has established itself as the Lavallette Pickleball Club sought the use of the borough-owned pickball courts at the bayfront for a block of time, seven days a week, between late June and early September, but officials ultimately decided the club should not be in charge of the rules, timing and organization of games every single day.
Pickleball has exploded in popularity in recent years, with Lavallette establishing itself as something of a local hub for the growing sport, which is played on converted tennis courts. A group of local players, who eventually became as the Lavallette Pickleball Club took it upon themselves to organize access to the courts. They kept track of proper timing for games, rotated players in and out of the courts and kept score. But while the club was – and will continue to be – open to the general public on any given day, council members began to grow wary of turning over the courts – a taxpayer-funded facility – to a private club to manage.
This summer, the borough council established a “recreation badge” of $50 for use of the courts all season and will also sell daily passes. This would put a borough employee – not a member of the club – in charge of collecting court fees. Like any other sports league, the pickleball club was able to request the use of the courts under its management by way of a borough permit. But the issue came to a head at Monday night’s meeting of the borough council after it was determined that the club did not request a four-hour block of time each weekend – but every day between June 24 and Sept. 10. Council members were ready to approve the weekend reservation request when a leader of the pickleball group rose to clarify that the group was seeking the 8 a.m. to 12 noon slot of time seven days a week.
“Your style of play is wonderful – I have no problem with it – but you can’t take every morning for one group and tell me everyone else in Lavallette has to go by your rules,” said Councilwoman Joanne Filippone, addressing Kathy Granstrand, the leader of the pickleball club. “Maybe I just want to practice, I don’t want to keep score or rotate.”
Officials have said they have heard complaints from residents who feel the club manages to games to an extent that is too rigid and officiated, leaving less time for grandparents to teach small children about the sport, or simply to play casually without adhering to the club’s pace.
“I’ve heard from other people in the last two weeks who say they can’t play here because it’s too competitive and they are intimidated,” Filippone said.
Pickleball Club members argue that their group does not deny anyone access to the courts, and makes use of the courts more efficient by managing time slots for matches. Granstrand said single players could end up being left out since, without the club having an official time slot, there may not be other players with whom they could be matched up with for a game.
“If we don’t have the open play, they won’t have anyone to play with,” said Granstrand. “The only thing we do is try to organize it and get people flowing through the courts. If people just come, it will be chaos. They’ll be playing on the courts, not leaving, and this makes it more complicated.”
Councilman Robert Lamb, who chaired Monday’s meeting in the absence of Mayor Walter LaCicero, said his fellow council members had all interpreted the request from the club as a wish to reserve the four hour blocks on weekends and some holidays only, and came to a consensus.
“I think the conversations were to have it limited to the weekends, and there was some discussions as to having it on the holidays too,” he said.
After some procedural technicalities over Robert’s Rules were resolved, Granstrand, representing the club, warily asked the council to amend the request to cover only Saturdays and Sundays between the two dates, plus Labor Day and July 4, which falls on a Tuesday this year.
The council unanimously approved the revised request, giving the club access each weekend morning between 8 a.m. and 12 noon (as well as the holidays). Anyone with a recreation badge or daily pass will be able to play pickleball, either with the group or on their own terms outside of the designated hours.