Pickleball courts were allowed to open Tuesday, but John Hindle, president of the Niagara-on-the-Lake club, wasn’t sure the outdoor Virgil courts would be ready.
The provincial announcement came Thursday that tennis and pickleball could resume, but the Town has indicated the courts might not all be ready by Tuesday, and is proceeding with caution.
“Our first priority is to protect the health and safety of our community,” Lord Mayor Betty Disero said Tuesday. “We want to ensure that there is a plan in place to provide a safe space for people to play. They will open as quickly as we can get them to that point.”
And while some club members are anxious to get out and get some exercise, Hindle isn’t ready to begin club activities.
In February, he asked council to designate the Virgil courts for community use, with controlled access through two gates with an entry code. While he wants the public to continue using the courts, the surface is being damaged from people using them for other activities, such as soccer, road hockey, skateboarding, and rollerblading, damaging the surface and the nets.
He told The Local he doesn’t believe the damage is malicious, but rather “kids just being kids. They don’t do damage deliberately.”
Pickleball has become a fast-growing sport, both indoors and out, and the Virgil courts have caused “quite a stir in the region,” Hindle says, allowing pickleball to become a year-round sport locally.
At the May 11 committee-of-the-whole phone-in meeting, he got his answer, with councillors recommending the changing of the name, and the addition of the gates. There will also be signs with instructions on how to access the courts, with the work expected to be finished this spring.
Town staff will continue to be responsible for all repairs and maintenance of the courts, and will consult on any major capital investments from the NOTL Pickleball Club.
The club is happy to take on the responsibility for looking after the phone number and changing the gate access code regularly, Hindle says.
The cost will be about $3,500, funded through the parks and recreations budget, with a donation of $1,500 from the club. The decision must be ratified at Monday’s council meeting.
But as anxious as players are to get back on the courts, says Hindle, the decision has been made to wait until the gates are installed before beginning club activities.
Until then, when they can control access to the courts, will know who is on them, can limit the number of players and ensure rules about disinfecting the equipment are followed, he says, he doesn’t feel comfortable having the club assume responsibility for its members, especially when most are seniors and are at greater risk. They can choose to play, but it is their decision and their responsibility to follow the guidelines of physical distancing.
Playing outdoors will make physical distancing possible, especially if they concentrate on playing singles rather than doubles, says Hindle. The biggest issue to ensuring safety is avoiding picking up balls on the court, with players instead using their rackets or kicking them off the court with their feet. Players will likely initial them, and take them home to be sterilized, along with their paddles, he says.
The added bonus, which was not anticipated when the request was made in February, is that the phone calls for the access code will create a record of attendance on the court that can be tracked, which could prove useful during the pandemic if there are further outbreaks once the courts reopen.
“It makes absolute sense at this time. We’re not going to be a police force, but if we take attendance, it gives us some control and a record of who is using the court,” says Hindle.
“Pickleball is a very social sport. And as a group, members are also very socially responsible. When we reopen, if we ask members to keep to certain guidelines, such as physical distancing, to be safe, they will do that.”
Once the courts are open, the club plans to move forward with installing wind screens and a shaded area, at their own cost, says Hindle.