The New York City Parks Department is bowing to pressure from players of the fast-growing paddle sport known as pickleball, unveiling plans for official permanent pickleball courts on the Upper East Side — which has been the landscape for a neighborhood turf war filled with accusations of unneighborly behavior flying from both sides.
Last October, Upper East Site exposed the battle raging at Carl Schurz Park over a land grab by pickleballers, after an organizer known as ‘The Pickleball Doctor’ — without permission from NYC Parks — painted the three makeshift courts over the large asphalt asphalt activity area that was already heavily-used by skateboarders, basketball players and school-aged kids who come to play.
During a meeting of Community Board 8’s Parks and Waterfront Committee Thursday night, NYC Parks Manhattan Borough Commissioner Anthony Perez detailed the ongoing drama and unveiled the agency’s plans for pickleball in the neighborhood and the borough.
“There’s clearly a need, and a want, and a demand for pickleball in this area,” Commissioner Perez explained.
“Unfortunately, the wait times and the high demand also leads to individuals painting additional unofficial court lines and that’s where it gets even trickier. Or more contentious, particularly when it comes to taking away space for children in the community.”
Backed by Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, who says her whole family are avid pickleball players and whose son spoke during the public meeting, as well as Council Member Julie Menin, whose office has heard from the vocal pickleball community, Commissioner Perez announced they would get their wish — NYC Parks plans to replace three makeshift courts installed in Carl Schurz Park with three permanent courts, which would be located at the far end of the asphalt play area.
“It makes more sense to separate the two to have the organized sports on opposite ends,” Perez told the meeting, “You have basketball on one side and three pickleball courts on the other side, leaving the open space in the middle for children to play and ride their bikes or whatever it may be.”
Not satisfied with plans to gift pickleballers a big chunk of the play area’s space for three permanent courts despite last year’s unsanctioned annexation, some pleaded with the Commissioner for even more space.
“Would you guys consider having or painting a couple of extra courts to be used for practice for clinics for training? asked pickleball player Gary Schechter.
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“There is room enough for everybody to exist in Carl Schurz Park and there is room for three, if not more pickleball courts,” said David Sparrow, one of two pickleball player to use their time to take shots at other park-goers.
“There is one antagonist who comes to the park regularly … and he comes looking and sparks conflict,” Sparrow added.
“We all want to play together. My problem is the skateboarders that jumped over the barrels without helmets, and they can break their heads! said Janine B., “Pickleball, it’s a nice activity.”
An Upper East Side father named Joel — the man Mr. Sparrow referenced as being an antagonist — also spoke passionately, detailing the damage done to other residents enjoyment of Carl Schurz Park, and more so, how it steals play space from children.
“It has become a deterrent for kids to come and play in the park. It’s a hazard,” Joel, who did not provide his last name, told the committee, “I’m not going to say every pickleball player is nasty. But, there are a group that are and some of them are selfish.”
“There are collisions there, are people get hitting each other. I’ve seen people wander onto the courts and adults are screaming at them,” Joel continued.
“These three pickleball courts currently occupy 60% of [the play area],” the frustrated father explained, “that 60% is currently used by 12 people [playing pickleball at one time]. You used to have 50 kids running around in that same area.”
We all know that the lines were painted without authorization and it’s been left up now for six months. The issue with leaving it up for such a long period of time is this has now gone out to so many people,” Joel added.
According to Commissioner Perez, an online group where pickleball players organize games at Carl Schurz Park has more than 1,400 members — which sounds like a lot of people in need of space, until you realize that Yorkville alone has a population of 84,000, according to the 2020 census.
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That 1,400 is not exclusively Upper East Side residents either. Pickleball players come to Carl Schurz Park from all over the city, including the sport’s beloved local hero.
‘The Pickleball Doctor,’ whose real name is Albert, gained cult-like admiration from entranced Upper East Siders for painting makeshift courts and organizing games after discovering there wasn’t enough space for players in Upper Manhattan.
“My life is bigger now because of what has been created on the Upper East Side because this gentleman Albert has started this amazing community,” said Janine B.
“I just really wanted to say briefly that this [pickleball] community that Albert has created is the greatest thing that’s happened in the 24 years that I’ve lived on the Upper East Side,” David Sparrow added.
“When I finished playing pickleball at Carl Schurz Park, I have a smile on my face — and have a smile on my face because of the community that Albert ‘The Pickleball Doctor’ created there,” gushed Andy Lachman, who added “‘The Pickleball Doctor’ deserves special notification and recognition from this community for what he’s done. He’s done something amazing. He’s transitioned that area into something special.”
In addition to the plan for three courts at Carl Schurz Park, Commissioner Perez said the Parks Department was looking for ideas where else it could cram in more pickleball courts on the UES.
One proposal to convert handball courts at John Jay Park on East 77th Street into pickleball courts by removing walls diving the space was a non-starter for the handball and tennis players who already use the courts regularly.
“I want to remind that on the on the Upper East Side, the tennis court at John Jay Park is the only resource that we have to public,” explained Luca, an UES resident, “this means that pickleball players are going to push out a huge amount of kids and tennis players just grabbing the land and recreating exactly the same situation.”
“I have been out there almost every morning for the past 15 years, Winter and Summer, playing tennis against the wall,” said Upper East Sider Sandra Jackman, “There’s a whole group who comes periodically throughout the day playing against those walls, the children from the various schools come and play games against those walls.”
We have not made any decisions to remove any walls or to convert John Jay Park into pickleball areas,” NYC Parks Manhattan Borough Commissioner Anthony Perez responded to the rumors and concerns.
“We want to have a community conversation first before making decisions like that.”
Community Board 8’s Parks and Waterfront Committee ultimately approved a resolution endorsing NYC Parks plan for courts at Carl Schurz Park and requesting ideas for new locations.
You can share your thoughts on the issue during the public comment portion of Community Board 8’s full board meeting scheduled for Wednesday, February 15 at 6:30 by clicking here to sign up to speak.
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