Push for pickleball courts at Juniper Park
by Benjamin Fang
Jun 05, 2019 | 5993 views | 0 0 comments | 209 209 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Comptroller Scott Stringer hosted a roundtable for community stakeholders in Glendale last month, one attendee asked about the possibility of bringing pickleball to Juniper Valley Park.

Stringer professed that he did not know what pickleball was, but said he would look into it.

That question came from Ernie Chirichella, a longtime Middle Village resident and past president of the Juniper Park Civic Association.

Chirichella, who called pickleball an “up-and-coming sport,” is continuing his push to bring new courts to Queens.

“It’s getting very popular because the seniors can play it, it’s played in all the rec centers now,” he said. “There’s not as much running around as tennis.”

According to the USA Pickleball Association, the sport was created in 1965 by former Washington Congressman Joel Pritchard.

After playing golf on a Saturday morning that year, Pritchard returned home to find his family “sitting around with nothing to do.” The congressman’s property had an old badminton court and some sporting equipment, including ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball.

Putting those elements together, Pritchard and his family began playing and creating rules for the new game.

In 1972, they formed a corporation to protect the creation of the sport. By 1990, pickleball was played in all 50 states.

Today, there are more than 4,000 locations to play the sport, especially within community centers, YMCA facilities and retirement communities.

Elvis Maduro, Nassau County ambassador for USA Pickleball, said there’s a growing popularity for the sport, including in Queens.

“It’s growing by leaps and bounds,” he said. “It’s the fastest growing sport in America.”

Maduro said he heard there were two small tennis courts at Juniper Valley Park that were in disrepair. He said he’s interested in refurbishing them and using them for pickleball.

“It would be great to start it here,” he said.

The Merrick resident said he plans to get together with Chirichella and sit down with Community Board 5 leaders to discuss the idea and possible next steps.

CB5 District Manager Gary Giordano said while the physical condition of the tennis courts at Juniper Park is the responsibility of the Parks Department, a concessionaire does provide lessons there.

Giordano estimated that resurfacing would cost over $1 million.

“If there are a lot of adults who are interested in pickleball, it’s certainly worth some consideration,” he said. “Whether there’s available permit time is a question.”

A Parks Department spokesperson confirmed that the agency maintains the courts. She said they would be happy to discuss the proposal with the community board.

Maduro, who grew up in Manhattan but also lived in the Bronx and Queens before moving to Long Island, said he wants to host a pickleball clinic to expose the neighborhood to the sport.

“It’s so much fun, it’s so easy to learn,” he said. “Usually people get hooked in an hour.”
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