Pickleball Wars at Carl Schurz Park: Enthusiasts Battle Other Residents Over Rec Space

Community Board 8 voted to establish three courts at Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side, but some residents say that a man identified as “the Pickleball Doctor” has been setting up a fourth court for the fast-growing sport. Enthusiasts love it, but some neighborhood residents complain that this cuts into the recreational space that young kids once enjoyed. Fistfights have nearly broken out on the asphalt playground.

| 14 May 2023 | 07:50

Carl Schurz Park, a slice of green space bordering the East River on the Upper East Side, has become a sort of haven for pickleball enthusiasts.

How many courts should be allocated to the fast-growing sport has become a contentious issue, as some local residents push back against what they see as a land grab by the pickleballers--who want to claim four courts and squeeze other parkgoers to the margins.

Community Board 8 stepped into the fray recently and adopted a resolution at a February 15th meeting that stated “there should be 3 Pickleball Courts located on the South Side of the Park’s Multi-Purpose Play Area opposite the basketball courts.” The resolution also specified that “the hours pickleball can be played would be limited if there were other permitted uses occupying the park at that time.”

This second point of the resolution is a nod to the reality that not all members of the community have bought into the new monopolization of the park’s blacktop, which is spurred on by a press-adverse figure known to enthusiasts as “Albert the Pickleball Doctor.” Albert regularly sets up the ad-hoc pickleball courts with chalk and nets.

One Upper East Side resident said she had heard that one on-court confrontation almost resulted in fisticuffs.

Tensions flared at a February 9th Parks and Waterfront Committee meeting, as a local father named Joel proclaimed that pickleball has “become a deterrent for kids to play in the park. It’s a hazard, and I’m not gonna say every pickleball player is nasty, but there is a group that is.”

This isn’t the first time that pickleball has become a flashpoint for New York parkgoers. A petition entitled “Save NYC’s Seravalli Playground (aka Horatio Park) from the Pickleball Takeover” garnered over 3,300 signatures after Greenwich Village residents became frustrated with what they saw as domineering encroachment by pickleball players on a beloved community playground. The petition ultimately ended with a total ban on pickleball at Seravalli Playground, forcing fans of the sport to relocate their recreation elsewhere.

Pickleball is all the rage in Manhattan, especially among people that may not be drawn to more traditional established sports. Older populations make up a large constituency for its popularity, and they’ve begun to promote the use of public space to get pickleball games going. Albert helped build a ready-made community for players such as Andy Lachman, who is a big fan of what the “doc” has spurred on. “The thing about pickleball is that a lot of seniors are playing now,” Lachman told Our Town, adding that “some of them have told us they haven’t exercised in the last 15 years.” Furthermore, Lachman said that “for the most part, it’s a really nice community. Everybody’s friendly. Nobody wants to take space away from kids.”

Lachman did acknowledge “a little scuffle a couple months back with a dad and son, but that’s an aberration,” which ostensibly appeared to be a reference to Joel. He described it as “one person that is trying to stage his own little protest, doing things like playing Frisbee in the middle of the game.” He had nothing but praise for Albert, who he described as “kind of like a Johnny Appleseed of pickleball.”

As far as the city’s response to the permanent pickleball expansion at Carl Schurz they’ve endorsed via resolution, Parks Commissioner Anthony Perez stated: “It’s always our goal to provide a balance of access between all of the various sports and activities that our regular park visitors enjoy.”