Pickleball Points

First thing first this week: Your health.

Now that we are playing longer outdoor pickleball sessions in slightly warmer weather, pay attention to hydration. Your body’s electrical systems need water, just like your car battery, so pack more and drink it more frequently.

As to your continued health, make sure you have proper court shoes. Old tennis shoes with worn-down soles are guaranteed to ground you, as are cross country-type soles. Those old clunkers are not only bad for you but scuff the pickleball court. Finally, street shoes, even for a basic introductory clinic, are terrible for the courts because they can cut through the membrane that protects the court surface.

Now, my sermon: We are fortunate to have so many upscale communities along the Delaware coast. Those communities are fortunate to have very talented residents who are pickleball advocates who have taken the lead in their communities to organize pickleball.

COVID-19 forced changes in pickleball, just as it has across the rest of our society, and I found it interesting how these various community leaders dealt with similar problems as they organized pickleball play in our communities. I hope the developers appreciate the talent they have helping organize this major amenity which has grown like a pickle garden. Perhaps pickleballers from other areas of the country who follow my column might be interested as they contemplate deciding on their own retirement community — communities, of course, that feature pickleball.

More than a year ago now, I was surprised at how the Centers for Disease Control was so focused on citizens masking to avoid COVID-19 that they seemingly tossed personal exercise into the back alley. As a result, many of my acquaintances reported bulking up as they sat on their couches, riveted to the television.

But in many pickleball communities, there were these wiser leaders, men and women, who stood in the fresh air on their community courts, dressed in arctic jackets and caps, ringing the pickleball bell every morning, calling for smart, safe, group play. Playing pickleball in below-freezing conditions, when the ball feels like a rock on the paddle, is a new dimension, but it didn’t seem to chill the laughter, which was another missing life ingredient.

The first of these communities I want to bring to your attention is Bethany West, a favorite resort community of Bethany Beach. I checked in with Lee Metzger last week to find out how they faired during COVID. Lee was a participant and organizer in our fundraiser when a dozen cancer survivors competed against a dozen heart survivors to raise money for a local emergency room.

Lee immediately wanted to applaud Tom Murphy and Mary Kay Gillespie, who he claims have been the bell-ringers at Bethany West. Lee explained that 30 regular pickleballers took to their four courts every week since opening last May, thanks to their property manager, Cathy McCalliste, and the community HOA board.

Their courts were closed to outsiders, and initially there were only four homeowners. But by introducing new homeowners to the sport, they have grown to almost 30 homeowners participating in this great participation exercise.

When I say 30 players, of course I am speaking about players showing up at their community courts almost every day of the week for three-hour sessions. In fact, they’ve played so much at Bethany West, they have worn their courts down and are now looking at options to improve or replace those courts. Bethany West is very fortunate to have these outstanding pickleball leaders.

Bayside is the second community I would like to highlight. Bayside, like last week’s Bear Trap Dunes, is a Freeman community, and Guy Incontrera is a busy pickle over there, but we still managed to get a few minutes to review their pickleball program.

I found it interesting that the players at Bayside formed a pickleball club to raise money to fund court equipment and also interface with their management company. It is a very large community, so their club blocks and publishes times that the courts are exclusively used for pickleball.

They sponsor two or three training classes a year where volunteers either instruct new homeowners how to play, or conduct group clinics for existing players to improve their skills. Their club also sponsors a doubles tournament each year, as on their courts, lines were painted for four pickleball courts over two tennis courts, which they share with their tennis community.

Guy pointed out their courts are closed to outsiders, but they sometimes still have 30 players participating — again, on a daily basis.

I have a shout-out for the Freeman group: They are lucky to have such a dedicated pickleball club over at Bayside. Get with the program and come up with some dedicated pickleball courts.

My final, but certainly not last, community to bring to your attention this week is Bishops Landing, where Byron Plumly has been growing pickles. Bishops Landing is also closed to outside play, but they have grown their community to between 30 and 50 active resident players participating in pickleball every week.

They, too, had the lines of four pickleball courts painted over two tennis courts, and I am envious of their lighted courts, where they can play pickleball in the evening. I am sure dermatologists would hand out gold stars to Beazer Homes for that nice feature.

Byron expects the courts to receive a new surface in the not-too-distant future, and also advised that there are plans for two more dedicated pickleball courts slated for the new section of Bishop’s Landing now under construction.

Byron asked that I share with the other communities an interesting website he found called Playtime Scheduler, which was created by a pickleballer. Players in his community can now schedule their own play sessions, which relieves him of much of the unseen busywork that he, and other leaders, invariably experience when they organize anything for pickleball. Check it out on the internet if this sounds like something that might relieve other leaders so they have more time for bell-ringing.

I do have a pleasant update: Steve Costa of the Coastal Community Picklecall League (CCPL) reported that one of the new communities in the league, Coastal Community Club in Lewes, an NV Homes community, has invited other league communities to play at their facility.

Next time, I will feature the community of Seagrass and an essay by two of their players who emphasized the importance of pickleball as they confronted COVID in their closed community.

When you come home after three hours of pickleball play,

Face red from exertion and a cold wet windy ocean spray.

Smiling as you reflect on all the laughter shared that day,

Hey, check in next week if you want to read the rest. G’day.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.