The main event in Natick on Tuesday may be opening night for Town Meeting (7:30pm at the high school), but the undercard action at the Cole Center (6-7pm) could be the livelier of the two: Natick Recreation and Parks has scheduled an open meeting on pickleball scheduling.
The stated focus of the Rec meeting is to “engage the community on a scheduling method moving forward at Connor Heffler Park for Pickleball.” Recreation and Parks Director Travis Farley says the town is trying to be pro-active on this.
We won’t be surprised if the meeting includes a wider ranging discussion about the sport, as demand for courts is outstripping supply in Natick and elsewhere. For those who cannot attend, you can message Farley at email@example.com with questions or concerns.
Outdoor court space is particularly limited in Natick, where Heffler Park is the primary venue for pickleball. Natick has spelled out hours at the 6 Heffler Park pickleball courts to give tennis players a chance to get their games in, too.
Now the town is hosting an open meeting to discuss a new scheduling method. Other communities use an app called PlayLocal for court scheduling.
The popular paddle sport is also played indoors, including at venues such as the Longfellow Health Club and Natick Community-Senior Center. But with the weather getting nicer, demand for outdoor play will rise.
Natick’s Doug Steinberg, an accomplished squash player and coach who transitioned to the “very socially distanced sport” of pickleball at the start of the pandemic, now tries to keep up with demand for pickleball lessons in Natick and beyond via his Paddle Up Pickleball School. Shortly after we spoke over the weekend, as an illustration of that demand, Steinberg messaged me that he had 24 adult players signed up for a clinic the next morning. “Nobody’s transitioning out of pickleball, they’re all transitioning into it,” he says, noting that the players he coaches are getting younger and younger, even starting in their 20’s.
Steinberg says some communities, including across Cape Cod, addressed the rise in pickleball popularity and rolled out dozens of dedicated courts. “The Cape got it early,” he says.
Figuring out how to schedule pickleball is challenging, Steinberg said, as people typically play doubles and usually want to go longer than 45 or 60 minutes. “The dilemma for pickleball now is court demand vs. court supply,” says Steinberg, who runs clinics for Natick Recreation & Parks. Steinberg expects a strong showing at the Natick pickleball meeting.
A related dilemma for pickleball in some communities is the battle between pickleball players and neighbors who don’t want to hear the pop-pop-pop of the ball or the chatter among players. Wellesley’s Recreation Commission has been trying to address this issue, and will deliver an update on next steps at a meeting later this week.
Steinberg said during a Wellesley Recreation Commission meeting earlier this year that the people around Heffler Park in Natick play pickleball, so seem not to be as impacted by the sound. “It’s an inviting sound when you’re used to playing,” he told us.
Disclaimer: We’ve owned a pickleball set since Christmas, but it has remained in the box… Peer pressure is building though.