When Edgemont resident Carol Weitzman first brought pickleball clinics to Greenburgh in 2014, U.S. Pickleball Association District Ambassador Jim Geary reiterated a statement he had once heard about the sport – played on a small 20×44- Foot space with a light bat and a breezy plastic ball with holes in it – call it “ping-pong on steroids”.
With Weitzman’s mission accomplished and Rumbrook Park soon becoming a pickleball center, the sport is finally finding its way across the Bronx River to Scarsdale.
Holly Malekian, who has played with friends for many years, including Rumbrook, has for many years tried with little success to get pickleball going at the Fox Meadow Tennis Club in Scarsdale, where she is a member. She always saw it as “a natural addition” to the racquet-only club, which was founded in 1883 and was the founding club of platform or paddle tennis in 1931, having been held in Edgemont by neighbors James K. Cogswell Jr. Founded. and Fessenden S. Blanchard.
Despite the club’s rich history of innovation, which has nine heated platform tennis courts – six illuminated – and six tennis courts – five Har-Tru, one hard court – and a clubhouse, Pickleball didn’t click on Wayside Lane until the end of the year, as FMTC -Member Cliff Seltzer, who got “addicted” a few years ago, finally piqued everyone’s interest.
Malekian has led a Thursday night group at the FMTC with free classes for a number of years, but it has never quite caught on as the hardcore tennis and paddle players are viewed as a sport “for geriatrics, not serious players,” she said.
“Then Cliff comes in and starts playing seriously and shows all the boys the game, the really athletic young people – like 40s and 50s and younger, their sons – and they play forever,” said Malekian with a laugh. “This is hardcore and they didn’t want anything to do with my Thursday night squad because these people are beginners. This has made pickleball a real sport. “
Scarsdale’s Cliff Seltzer helped bring Pickleball to FMTC.
Malekian isn’t sure why Seltzer was able to expose more people and make the sport “more legitimate” and “more believable”, but she’s just happy that it finally happened and happy that she helped lay the foundation . “I’m very pleased that Fox Meadow is now embracing this sport because for a while it felt like an uphill battle getting people on board,” said Malekian.
All of a sudden people started paying attention to Malekian too, and she and Seltzer became ambassadors for the sport in the club, donating their time and resources to the growth of the sport.
“It’s a hot racquet sport right now,” said Lou Santangelo, vice president of the FMTC. “We’re a great racquet club, the birthplace of paddle tennis, and we plan to have a big part in helping the pickle ball rise in the area. Our members will be able to enjoy another racquet sport. It has become such a big deal in our region. They’ve been around for a while in Florida and the South. It is a great addition for our members to have another racquet sport on the market, especially one that is now taking over the area. “
Current club president Shuling Hsieh Smith joined the club eight years ago and saw the various unsuccessful attempts to bring the sport into the club. She believes the COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst to finally spark interest.
“During the pandemic, everyone wanted to do outdoor sports and were looking for a variety of things,” she said. “Pickleball courts are very similar to our paddle courts in terms of their dimensions, so we took the advantage of playing there and seeing how it went. Cliff is very enthusiastic and very organized when it comes to bringing the game and giving good directions. He diligently brought us all there and one after the other we all started to play. “
Club professional Pavle Jefferson received his certification as a PE teacher, which expands his role in the club and takes some of the strain off Malekian and Seltzer, but also gives the club more opportunities for sociable spring and summer gatherings around pickleball.
The club’s membership is limited to 160 families and there has been a waiting list for two years, so a third racquet sport will not only add to this list, but it may take longer before there are any openings. “We really are family here,” said Smith.
With a waiting list for the club, a younger membership, and 170 juniors taking part in paddle tennis last year, Smith hopes pickleball will make its way to the younger generation as well. Santangelo no longer sees it as difficult to sell, despite admitting, “I wasn’t convinced until I started playing.”
FMTC is working to make pickleball its third official racquet sport and has invested quite a bit of initial money in buying home equipment and relining some of the courts. A major expansion to accommodate the sport using the current facilities is likely to be in preparation.
“We have a working group that is looking into what we can do there and how we can fit that in,” said Santangelo. “We don’t know exactly what it will look like, but we plan to build pickleball courts on the site so that we can use them in our leisure time and in leagues. For a more permanent solution to what we can have on our premises, we have a number of people, including Cliff Seltzer, who are working on it. “
While the ideal ground for pickleball is a hard court, it can be played on har-tru and paddle courts, the latter of which is not used much from mid-April to September as cold weather paddling is only a handful year-round over play even though a lot of those players have switched to pickleball … members who never showed up when it was over 50 degrees [are] hanging out on the dishes this summer.
The sport is not difficult to learn and does not put as much stress on the body as other racket sports – which makes it easier for people with injuries to play – because the equipment is light and takes up less space. You can put four pickleball courts on a tennis court, so instead of two or four people playing on a tennis court at the same time, you can play 16 pickleball, a good use of real estate.
A few basic rules:
• You can only score if you serve.
• Surcharges are under hand.
• When you serve the ball, it must rebound on the other side of the net and the return must rebound too. After that, both teams can play volleyball.
• There is a no-volley zone 7 feet from either side of the net – an area called the “kitchen”. You can only go to the kitchen to hit a ball that is bouncing there.
Seltzer picked up the game a few years ago while visiting his parents in Florida, and last summer during the COVID-19 shutdown, his family set up a makeshift court in their driveway, attracting neighbors’ interest. It became the perfect time for the sport to prevail locally and it is no longer seen as a sport for the older generation. “It’s good exercise and during COVID it was something anyone could do,” Seltzer said.
Malekian said the sport is “for everyone”.
“The club has really grown in popularity and other Scarsdale Country clubs are playing too and we can play them in the league which is a lot of fun,” she said. “We show up, everyone plays against everyone and it’s competitive. The level in Westchester is not that great yet, but things are looking up. Cliff and his boys are really good. Many clubs are currently learning the sport. “
Greenwich Country Club pro Juan Arraya helped take the sport to the next level in the area when he emailed the area, golf, swimming and tennis clubs with Har in late winter / spring -Tru seats and they asked about the creation of the Fairfield-Westchester Pickleball League, which received an overwhelming response before the league game began in June. There are currently 69 teams including FMTC, Sunningdale Country Club and Scarsdale Golf Club playing in geographic leagues, with some clubs setting up multiple teams. “Just like that it became the largest cucumber league in the country,” said Seltzer.
Peter Siesel from Briarcliff plays the ball.
The local club teams, each consisting of four women and four men – no professionals and no young wrestlers – play in two divisions: Yellow 1 consists of FMTC, Sunningdale Country Club, Scarsdale Golf Club, Beach Point, Ardsley Country Club, Bonnie Briar Country Club and Tarry Crest Swimming and Tennis Club, while Yellow 2 consists of FMTC 2, Westchester Country Club 4, Greenwich Country Club 3, Tarry Crest Swimming and Tennis Club 2, Sunningdale Country Club 2, Sleepy Hollow Country Club 1, and Sunningdale Country Club.
“The transition from paddle or platform tennis to pickle is seamless – the same size of court, same type of strategy, the racket is similar,” said Seltzer. “Of course the ball is different and you do a few things differently, but there are a lot of differences from tennis to pickle. The bulk of our members – at the end of the day Fox Meadow is a paddle court, the home of platform tennis – are there because we have the best setup for paddling and we have tennis so you can do that too, but we’re a platform Club. It is for this reason that so many people are good and they gathered cucumbers so quickly. If we go to these other clubs that are more tennis clubs that play pickle, we dominate them and they want to know how fast we are good. “
Fox Meadow, which had 169 national paddle champions from 1935 to 2006, could begin producing title winners in a new sport.
While the parishes are not involved in the Fairfield Westchester League, many towns and villages are also expanding and configuring their court spaces to meet the demand for pickleball. Scarsdale Parks and Recreation Department’s deputy superintendent Bob Kaczmarek, who oversaw the surge in tennis permits over the past year and the resurgence of interest in platform tennis, said the village is currently rolling out a gentle rollout for pickleball and facilities and interest rated.
“I expect Pickleball will really bloom once we get it working,” he said.
If the Fox Meadow Tennis Club is any clue, pickleball is the next big hit.