Pickleball problems: Longboat residents unsure about usage rules
What residents have said they interpret as conflicting signage has caused confusion about who can play when at the well-used Bayfront Park pickleball court.
| 10:00 a.m. January 17, 2018
Andi Butler and her husband, Gerry, have spent a few weeks on Longboat Key, an island stormed by one of the fastest-growing sports in the country.
Once the Wisconsin natives tried it, they, like many Longboat residents and visitors, were hooked.
The game is pickleball, a sport that combines tennis, badminton and pingpong on what looks like a small tennis court.
At-Large Commissioner Jim Brown, who lives near the court, told the Town Commission the unmistakable tonk of a solid composite or wooden racket hitting a perforated plastic ball can be heard near Bayfront Park most days of the week, weather permitting.
But residents and visitors may have taken to the game a bit too fondly.
“We signed up the other day to play and came, and people [already on the court] said we couldn’t play, because it’s first come, first serve,” Andi Butler said.
The Butlers’ experience embodies the struggle many on Longboat said they’ve seen: whether the court can be reserved or is open on a first-come, first-served basis.
Residents say signs at the park don’t help.
The park rules posted on a fence around the courts’ perimeter read “first come first serve.” But there’s a pickleball sign-in sheet on a nearby cork board that some said they interpret as a means to reserve the space.
“We got one court, and so many people want to play,” said Jim Wolohan, who owns a home on Longboat Club Road and plays at the Bayfront Park pickleball court a few times a week. “It’s an absolute mess.”
Text at the bottom of the sign- up sheet, which offers four columns for a date and time sign-in, reads: “Sign-in is for the current day/time only; sign up in advance is prohibited.”
But Wolohan, who posted a sticky note on the cork board offering himself as an intermediate pickleball player who “can play anytime and [lives] only 5 minutes away,” said the sign-in sheet doesn’t make sense.
“Ideally, you’d be able to sign-up in advance,” Wolohan said. He said the impression he and many residents have of the sign-in sheet is that it is to schedule when people want to play rather than as a record of who has played.
Some residents have been vocal about their confusion. Someone wrote “WHY BOTHER!” across two columns and six rows of the sign-in sheet.
Town Manager Tom Harmer said that although he hasn’t been approached, the Public Works Department and a few commissioners have received emails complaining about the sign-up or sign-in confusion.
“I think it’s a new park, it’s a new asset, there’s always a little bit of that demand, that you hope that there’s a demand, for a pickleball court when you put one in, and it may be greater than we anticipated,” Harmer said.
Street, Facilities, Parks and Recreation Manager Mark Richardson said he’s considering removing the sign-in sheet or rebranding it as a “waiting list.”
The town has identified the parking lot of the former Amore restaurant and the tennis center for extra courts as a long-term solution.
Andi Butler suggested allowing individuals and teams to sign-up a day in advance or creating an online portal where people interested in playing could reserve the court.
Wolohan suggested that people would pay $1 for an hour on the court if it could help avoid confusion and congestion.
Beth Mahr, a visitor from Barrington, Ill., said the best option may be offering a day-of sign-up that would prevent people from reserving the court day after day.
“It’s just fun, it’s fast moving, it’s democratic because [Longboat has] public courts,” Mahr said of the game. “It’s really a lovely town and a lovely sport.”