Pickleball phenomenon grows in Riverhead, thanks to a persistent fan
News Source: www.riverheadlocal.com
Once you’ve played pickleball, you’re hooked.
That’s the word from fans of the sport, a combination, of sorts, of tennis and ping-pong, played with paddles and Wiffle balls on a court the size of a doubles badminton court.
That may be why it’s fastest-growing sport in America, with participation this year by more than 2.4 million people, according to the USA Pickleball Association.
Pickleball’s soaring popularity may also be its accessibility and ease of play, which makes it all the rage among the over-50 set.
When Calverton resident Artie Johnsen pitched the idea of adding pickleball to the Riverhead recreation department’s offerings, the rec staff was skeptical — some even laughed it off, according to Riverhead parks and recreation superintendent Ray Coyne.
“But Mr. Johnsen was persistent,” Coyne said, and the town was convinced to give it a try.
Since its introduction in Riverhead in 2013, the sport has taken off here — with participation growing by 29 percent in 2014 and by a whopping 45 percent in 2015, according to the recreation department. Other towns, including Brookhaven, have since initiated pickleball programs.
Riverhead’s program became so popular, the town this year converted the Stotzky Park hockey rink into three pickleball courts, where the game is played under the lights every Friday night, Coyne said.
Riverhead held the first pickleball tournament on Long Island in the fall of 2013 and it was an instant success. The third annual Pickleball Fall Classic Tournament took place at Stotzky Park courts on Saturday. Open to anyone age 50 and older, it drew more than 40 contestants for men’s, women’s and mixed doubles play. Thirteen of those contestants were first-time tournament players.
Each twosome played two games in the double-elimination tournament, which ran from 9 to 12:30 on Saturday.
One of the winner’s of the men’s double’s competition has come out on top in each of the three Riverhead tournaments held so far. Ricardo Romero, 54, of Freeport, walked away with his third first-place trophy — and a jar of pickles.