The pickleball courts in Virgil are off-limits for now, with provincial restrictions banning many outdoor activities, but with the recent growth in popularity of the sport and the “stunning success of the installation outdoor courts,” action will likely take off as soon as rules permit.
John Hindle, president of the NOTL Pickleball Club, spoke to councillors at their Monday planning committee meeting about the partnership between the club and the town, which he would like to continue for the next five years.
Last year, the courts were surrounded by black windscreens on three sides, and locks put on the two entries, at the request of the NOTL Pickleball Club.
That was partly due to the partnership between the club and the town, forged last year on a trial basis, setting out the responsibilities of both, including how costs and maintenance will be shared.
All play has been suspended, indoors and on the Virgil courts, due to COVID-19. When the province permits and club play resumes, there will be scheduled time for members, and always at least one court for public use, Hindle said.
On a provincial level, he told councillors, the club has signed a partnership agreement with Pickleball Ontario, which will provide more opportunities for financial support and coaching expertise, just a few of the advantages of the agreement.
The club also applied for 2022 provincial championships to be held in NOTL, but then withdrew their submission. “Restrictions of COVID would not permit us to host the superior event we would demand of ourselves,” he said, “but we’ve been requested to resubmit when times are better.”
On the national level, Pickleball Canada is currently striving to get federal recognition of the sport, and the club is one of the league clubs in Canada to work on a national registration system, he said, telling councillors the club has never stopped working to build on its successful foundation.
With the start of the season of warm weather, club members are “cracking, going crazy,” he told The Local, itching to get out onto the courts.
When the club opened last season, with COVID protocols, about half the members were hesitant to play, but now vaccinated, he thinks they will see a big return to the courts when allowed.
Club representatives have talked many times about how they will handle provincial restrictions, depending on what is permitted.
When the club opened after the first lockdown last spring, they could only play within their household bubble. He’s hoping that won’t be the case this time, that the province will assign colour categories with fewer restrictions.
He’s also hoping they won’t be limited to singles play, which is pretty hard physically, and a lot for some of the seniors to handle. “Given the demographics and fitness levels of some of the seniors, that’s not the workout we’re looking for.”
Pickleball is as much about the social connections, being out with friends, letting off steam and talking about family as it is about the sport, Hindle says. “The physical activity of it brings fitness and joy. Being engaged with other people when playing the game brings a feeling of mental and physical well-being.”
Members will support and follow all protocols and restrictions in place when they reopen, he says, and are hoping to see tennis, golf and pickleball all open soon.
When the courts reopen, the hours of play have been reduced to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Last year they started an hour earlier and ended an hour later, but times were changed out of respect for nearby residents, who found activity from the courts could be noisy.
There was some discussion Monday about reducing the hours even further, closing down at 9 p.m., but councillors had little appetite for taking another hour of play away from club members and the public, “on the fly,” without consultation, said Coun. Erwin Wiens, at least until they receive feedback about the change.
Coun. Allan Bisback agreed. “We should be encouraging people to get outside,” he said. “We don’t know what this recovery is going to be like,” he added, noting the courts have lights for evening use.
The town’s noise bylaw goes into effect at 11 p.m., and closing an hour earlier gives players time to pack up their stuff and chat amongst themselves, heading home before the noise curfew begins, said Lord Mayor Betty Disero.
Hindle says the most popular time on the courts are early in the day before it gets too hot, especially for members, and then late afternoon and early evening he’s noticed a growing number of young people and families playing pickleball.
In the agreement Hindle hopes to see signed, the town will be responsible for all future major capital improvements, in consultation with the club.
The club will be responsible for purchasing auxiliary items, such as storage lockers, ball machines, wind screens, and assorted pickleball equipment.
They agree that the club may schedule tournaments and other special events from time to time by providing the town with one month advance notice, and the town has the right to approve or deny any proposed tournaments or special events if the date and time conflicts with other events. They also agree there will not be any courts available for public use during tournaments or learn-to play events.
The club is assisting the town by maintaining a system for the general public and club members to access the gate code to enter the courts, and to be responsible for reprogramming the code when they decide it needs to be changed.
The locked gate and code were put in place last year, when it appeared people using the court for other purposes, such as cycling, were damaging them.