I want to talk about pickleball’s rise in Portland. I also want to state my firm stance that Portland needs more options for public pickleball courts that aren’t on tennis courts. It’s a bit of a pickle – yes, pun intended.
I’m not about to localize the hot-button tennis vs. pickleball debate, or the pickleball vs. annoyed neighbors debate. Tennis court space was at a premium well before pickleball’s rise, but the growing popularity of the latter makes finding a place for tennis players more challenging.
I’m not saying to remove public pickleball courts from the city. But why don’t we repurpose existing space for pickleball that doesn’t overlap with tennis courts?
A few potential spots that come to mind:
- The half basketball court on the East End, just a stone’s throw from the tennis courts and main basketball court
- Parts of Back Cove when it’s closed summer Sundays
- And at off hours, school parking lots, especially Deering High School’s long, flat one
The above is a non-exhaustive list. I fully acknowledge the challenges of adding pickleball to these locations, especially the school parking lots. But think about it. On weekends and during the summer, the little-used lots could moonlight as pickleball centers, paving the way (yes, pun intended) for tournament play, camps and more. In the high school lot example, Deering Center neighborhood businesses might benefit from such an arrangement. You’re welcome, Quality Shop and whatever moves into the former Elsmere BBQ & Wood Grill space on the corner of Brentwood Street and Stevens Avenue.
The city does not track pickleball vs. tennis court usage statistics, according to Ethan Hipple, director of the Parks, Recreation and Facilities department. But it does acknowledge that pickleball is regularly played on the tennis courts at Deering Oaks, the Eastern Promenade, Payson Park and Deering High School. The city oversees 26 tennis courts and doesn’t plan on putting pickleball on any alternative surfaces, although there is a plan to convert existing tennis courts at Riverton Community Center/Talbot Elementary School into a “dedicated pickleball facility,” which means removing the tennis net posts, installing new pickleball nets and reconfiguring layout.
This is a project that I endorse. It makes sense to repurpose some tennis courts for pickleball use, especially those that aren’t the most popular tennis courts in the city. They’re rarely suggested as a potential option to play and few if any recreational or school leagues play there.
Though it takes away tennis space, it sounds like there’ll be more pickleball courts on a dedicated surface rather than the two per tennis court we already have. Perhaps the city will consider some of my ideas about how to expand opportunities for both pickleball and tennis, more directly achieved by creating pickleball-only spaces and hopefully not cutting more public tennis courts from the city.
Greg Levinsky is a Portland native and follower of local sports. He is an alumnus of Deering High School and Boston University whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Detroit Free Press, and several Maine newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected].