APRIL FOOL -- Town officials have begun checking athletic bags and backpacks for signs of spray paint and other evidence at Bayfront Park following incidents of graffiti and other vandalism that seem to indicate an escalation of a court-sport rivalry.
Police were alerted to trouble on the morning of March 22 when an officer making a routine patrol through the park around 4:40 a.m. found the words “Pickleball go home’’ sprayed in yellow paint on the practice backboard of the court-sport complex.
A power-washing crew was able to blast the paint off the wall, but the next morning town employees found the message “No LOVE for tennis’’ still wet to the touch on the surface of the park’s only dedicated-to-tennis hard court. It too was power washed to its original state.
Police were able to photograph and take plaster casts of shoeprints from a size 10 ½ Acacia Dinkshot model athletic shoe in the sand alongside the court, a police source said. No suspects have been publicly identified, nor have there been public claims of responsibility.
The graffiti exchange was seen as an escalation of a half-dozen less showy events in the weeks previous, but town officials said they’ve seen enough from enthusiasts of free-to-play sports on the island to put their foot down.
“It’s time everyone get together and play nice,’’ said a spokeswoman for the town who withheld her name because she is not authorized to speak publicly. “Don’t test us. We have the lawn bowling people on speed dial and can have that entire place razed and build six bowling rinks with artificial turf in about six months.’’
A Longboat Observer reporter returned from the park Tuesday morning trembling and reporting an uneasy tenseness among fans of all the court sports at the park.
“Don’t look at a us,’’ said Frieda Polander, an avid participant in a group of seven to 10 shuffleboard players at Bayfront Park. “We don’t need this kind of headache. I’ve seen West Side Story on Broadway and I know what can happen when rival gangs get together, and believe me, you don't want that.''
A small group of basketball players on the park’s half-court pointed into the distance and turned their backs on an Observer reporter, refusing to comment.
Nearby, uniformed security guards checked each person and their belongings before admitting them to the park, though guards would not answer questions from the reporter what they were looking for or even who they worked for.
“Move along, fella,’’ one of them said.
Pickleball players and tennis players have vied for space at Bayfront Park for years, not long after the paddle game began catching on locally. Pickleball players routinely pack their single-use courts and a tennis court painted with alternative lines and equipped with rollaway nets, reducing tennis to one court. While the Public Tennis Center offers a wide range of options, the Bayfront Park tennis vibe is different.
“We may not be too serious about our games, but we are serious about our courts,’’ said tourist Stan Smith, who said he prefers tennis at Bayfront Park than the clay courts elsewhere in town.
“Court,’’ interjected Harvey Ballsworth, a pickleball player waiting his turn to play 20 feet away. “Court. You have one court for your silly sport.’’
“What? I can’t hear you,’’ Smith retorted. “Your infernal paddles make so much noise.’’
Police reports as far back as February indicated a growing set of issues at the park. Among them:
- Feb. 14: A tennis ball that caromed off a court and into the parking lot was “intentionally” run over by a blue Subaru wagon, though the tennis players were not able to report a license number.
- Feb. 16: Bolts holding a pickleball paddle rack were sawed nearly through, leading to the rack’s collapse to the ground once it was filled to capacity. A hacksaw was found in the bushes nearby, but no useable fingerprints could be raised.
- Feb. 21: The pages of several copies of the International Tennis Federation rulebook were found shredded by a cross-cut office document shredder and left an inch deep on the tennis courts.
- March 2: Children’s wiffle balls were substituted for regulation pickleball equipment left overnight, resulting in offbeat play the next morning.
- March 3: Novelty crime scene tape was strung around the entire pickleball complex, making it appear the courts were off limits for hours.
- March 15: The tennis court nets were removed and hidden, and a treasure map was pinned to the fence with clues to its location.
"Our police have far better things to do that hall-monitor court-sport squabbles,'' the spokeswoman said. "For us, this is game, set and match.''