By Cheryl Conway
With more and more players signing up and the move to dedicate courts in town, Livingston may soon be known as the hub for pickleball.
What started out as an evening program with eight weekly sessions through the Livingston Senior Youth & Camp Leisure Services in April 2015, has grown from eight players to 140 players. A cross between tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong, pickleball is a fun paddle sport growing in popularity in town for all ages.
One of the challenges has been trying to find enough court space to accommodate the growing number of pickleball players. Some organizers recently received some support from township officials to look into converting some tennis courts and dedicate some other courts just for pickleball.
They also got some businesses to sponsor the local sport by supplying shirts, hats and banners and another to sell hard-to find paddles as discount prices.
“I hope Livingston becomes the center for pickleball in the country,” says Michael Garber of Livingston, active pickleball player. “It’s good for the town.”
Garber, who is 70, just started playing the sport in Sept. 2015 after “a buddy at the pool” suggested that he try the game. He has been trying to promote the game; he hosted an exhibition clinic at the July 4 celebration at Memorial Park Tennis Courts, and has planned another demonstration during the UNICO Italian Festival at St. Philomena’s at the end of September.
“We have been trying to promote pickleball in any way we can with a goal of getting the town of Livingston to eventually build dedicated pickleball courts,” says Garber. “We have talked to the mayor about being part of his renovation ideas at Riker Hill Art Park and he likes it.”
The points discussed and solidified with Livingston officials are that the pickleball lines will be painted on all four courts at the Northland Pool Tennis Courts and at Memorial Park High School tennis court. The timeline for painting is not yet determined, says Garber, maybe within the year, and until the lines are painted, “we have permission to tape pickleball lines on all four courts at Northland.”
Also, with the future renovation of the Heritage Middle School Tennis Courts, eight dedicated pickleball courts will be built on the site of two tennis courts.
“Our goal is to amicably co-exist with tennis while becoming the number one pickleball town in New Jersey,” says Garber. “I believe we are on our way.”
A paddle sport created for all ages and skill levels, paddleball has simple rules which makes the game easy for beginners to learn, but can turn into a competitive, fast paced game for experienced players.
For Garber, the speed and skill needed to play and have fun is a perfect fit.
“It starts off like tennis and ends up like ping pong,” Garber explains. An “underhand serve,” starts the game. “It’s like a chess match,” he explains. “Good for eye-hand coordination,” currently players range from 20 years old to age 84 in town.
When Garber retired more than four years ago from the insurance brokerage business, Garber says he was hoping to get to the basketball courts and tennis courts a few times a week.
“I was always involved in athletics,” he says, but injuries curtailed him from going to the gym. Ten years prior he had ruptured his Achilles’ tendon, he says, and also had a herniated disc and spurs in his shoulders.
What’s nice about pickleball is the “court is much smaller,” one third the size of a tennis court. Players use a small wood or graphite racket and a whiffle ball.
“I said I could do this,” says Garber. “Pickleball is not that taxing on the body.” He’s been playing for seven months.
“Down south in Florida, it’s huge,” says Garber, “with 100 courts; people in line waiting to play.” Pickleball has since followed the Florida snowbirds north to Livingston, explains Garber.
Since there are no designated pickleball courts in town, Garber brought down a string line and clamp to pinch down the net, and some chalk to draw lines on the tennis courts to turn them into the dimensions to play pickleball.
As the season grew colder, playing became a challenge. With no indoor space available, Garber went to the senior coordinator Lilliana Branquinho of the Livingston Senior Camp; Adult Enrichment Program, to request indoor space and got approval to use courts at the Monmouth Court Gym one morning a week through the winter.
Since there is no cost to play, Garber sought out some sponsorships so players can purchase t-shirts for $10 and other items like hats to offset costs for tape used to convert the courts as well as extra paddles and balls he provides to beginners.
“When you come to play with us you don’t need to bring balls,” says Garber. “All you need is a pair of sneakers. Eventually you want to buy a paddle, but we have one to borrow.”
High Country Ski and Tennis in Livingston has been selling pickleball paddles at discount prices or players can order one online. Bruce Bayer, one of the pickleball players who owns Alden Graphics, has been getting t-shirts made at cost; A Plus Physical Therapy in Livingston is supplying the shirts, hats and banners that say “Livingston Pickleball.”
On June 23, the pickleball regulars were surprised when Pickleball Pro Prem Carnot, who was touring around to offer clinics, “stopped by and played with us,” says Gerber.
Even the mayor “has been down and he’s played,” says Garber. About 54 percent of the players in Livingston are women, as well as several married couples.
Pickleball is a game for all ages and all skill levels. Anyone interested in playing
should go to the Northland Pool Tennis courts at 10 a.m. on Sat., Mon. or
Wed. and see the pickleball players in action. They’re the ones in the red Livingston pickleball shirts. For beginners, players are eager to offer instruction and there are extra paddles available to use.
Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle, WA. Three dads – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum -whose kids were bored during their summer are credited for creating game. One explanation for the name of the sport was derived from Pritchard’s dog, Pickles, a cocker spaniel who would chase the ball and run off with it.
To Garber, playing pickleball has become much more than a sport.
“It takes a lot of effort to do this,” says Garber, who refers himself as the CEO, CFO, maintenance boy,” to name a few when it comes to managing the pickleball program.
“It’s a very social atmosphere,” he says. The courts are divided into levels: level one, which is beginner, to level five, a master. He considers himself a “solid four.”
Gerber says, “I can play it. It’s not a sport where I think I’m going to hurt myself. Unlike tennis, where you can get tennis elbow, you are not going to get tennis elbow and you are not hurting the shoulder and you are not running around a big court.
“It’s good for the kids for hand, motor skills,” continues Garber. “It’s great for seniors, for those at card tables can be out playing a game.”