There appears to be no sign of a truce in the pickleball wars that are roiling Carl Schurz Park on the UES.
Our Town finally caught up with one of the leaders of the pickleball insurgents, a man with the first name of Albert, known locally as “Dr. Pickleball”. He is revered by zealots of the sport--and reviled by foes who see it as encroaching on kids’ free-play space.
“I was told not to talk to reporters,” said Albert, with a wry smile, the bridge of his nose smeared with sunscreen. He didn’t specify who gave him such an instruction, whether a lawyer or parents who instilled the advice in him at a young age. It was a typically active morning at Carl Schurz Park, with a smattering of older UES residents engaged in frenetic pickleball warm-up exercises & “Dr. Pickleball” enjoying his moment in the sun.
Some are more upset than others over the inroads he and the sport have made in Carl Schurz Park.
”Bring me the head of Dr. Pickleball,” said one area resident in mock anger, who has been an opponent of the loss of free space.
The picklers had recently scored a major victory that critics decried as a “land grab.” The Parks Department, with the blessing of a vote from Community Board 8, added three formalized bright-blue courts to the park’s recreational area. Now, a fourth court (minus a paint job) was visible crammed into the south end of the space, with a couple of older residents practicing their volleys over an additional net. This was all despite a tiff that saw a local dad named Joel nearly coming to fisticuffs with the picklers, after accusing them of not adequately considering the sporting interests of local youth.
Albert typically shows up to the park at around 11 a.m., wheeling a cart with chalk, nets, and wiffle balls used to play the sport. He’s become something of a cult figure among recent UES converts to the sport, convincing older folks to get out and get active. Indeed, it seemed that all of 86th St. was present at the courts on May 25th. Pickleball (also known as just “pickle”, with participants called “picklers”) is best described as a sort of complicated mixture of tennis and badminton, with a funky scoring mechanism and doubles matches taking precedence over 1 v. 1 play.
In a curious and telling twist, three young men began to hit with Albert. Two of them told Our Town that they had only begun playing on Monday, May 22nd. Nick, the greenest of the bunch, had only picked up a racket on the 24th. Albert, glasses perched on his nose and white tube socks up to his ankles, beckoned the trio over for a match. It seems that younger generations might acquiesce to the land grab after all.
Yet critics worry that they are being forced out of an open-play area. “Kids from the 84th St. School exercised there. The music students did a concert. At sundown, the Parks Department showed kids movies. What about the skateboarders who used to practice there, and the dog costume contest in October?”
Further downtown in Greenwich Village, local residents have succeeded in banning pickleball at the Seravalli Playground.