Pickleball has been taking over the Bronx’s neighboring boroughs the last couple of years, but the Bronx was “forgotten,” as residents say — until now.
This summer will mark a year since Alex Rosenblum, Carol Stricker, and Bonnie Geller-Geld have been pushing for a new pickleball facility in greater Riverdale.
“We will be taking up two handball courts to install one pickleball court (at the Riverdale Playground), and the installation will be done in-house,” Katherine Barrome, parks project development officer, said during a Community Board 8 parks committee meeting.
In handball, players use a hollow rubber ball and the server bounces the ball into play with their hand. The game aims to hit the ball against the wall without letting the receiving player return the ball.
Riverdale Playground is nestled near Spuyten Duyvil P.S 24 and Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy and across the street from a tennis center.
Mike Ortiz, chief of staff for the parks Bronx borough commissioner , personally walked around Riverdale last summer searching for a location for a pickleball facility.
“There was originally a request to convert the tennis courts at Seton Park into pickleball courts,” Ortiz said.
However, all six tennis courts were used by players, and the parks department hesitated to repaint them and transform them into pickleball courts.
While the Bronx has the least number of pickleball courts in the city, Rosenblum feels the one that stands out is in Van Cortlandt Park because it seems as if it was “thrown together by the agency.
The net is drooping, and there are no walls or barriers to prevent chasing after a pickleball out of bounds.
Ortiz said they have taken Rosenblum’s “wise wisdom” and will install a 4-foot fence.
“We are in discussions with the local community board and community stakeholders on the creation of a new pickleball court at Riverdale Playground and will continue to explore avenues to expand pickleball opportunities for Bronxites,” said Chris Clark, parks department press officer.
As Ortiz passed by Riverdale Playground, he noticed the handball courts were not being used. The playground has five such courts, two basketball courts and a baseball field.
“But I did reach out to the district staff out there that regularly clean the parks and they confirmed that they never saw a lot of users there,” Ortiz said.
“A lot of us feel that handball is a pretty good sport, so we didn’t want to eliminate it completely.”
According to USA Team Handball, the fast-paced game was introduced during the 1936 summer Olympics program.
“At Van Cortlandt Park there is a very active handball court so (playing) handball isn’t over,” Geller-Geld said.
The handball courts in Van Cortlandt Park are off the table as they are widely popular.
“I’ve been working with Alex (during) this process, and I just have to say hands out to Alex,” she said. “He’s been such a wonderful proponent for pickleball and working with your committee’s to get this done.”
The agency also plans to add colorful art on the walls.
“Have you talked with anybody about the runoff? That is to say, if I go chasing a ball, Am I going to hit that wall?” David Gelman said during the recent CB8 parks committee meeting.
According to the United States Handball Association, a typical handball court’s dimensions are 20 feet wide and 40 feet long, with a recommended wall standing as tall as 14 feet.
But for modern handball, according to the parks department, the wall is 20 feet wide and 16 feet high. It is drawn 16 feet away. The front wall is the “short line,” which separates the frontcourt from the backcourt.
The USA Pickleball rule handbook states a pickleball court should be 20 feet wide and 44 feet long.
Sharing a court for pickleball and handball has its problems, for sure.
“You got to worry about that because people can get hurt playing pickleball,” Rosenblum said.
Rosenblum is willing to meet with Ortiz and other organizers to determine if this is the best solution.
But he also stated that if there is one court, the pickleball players would need to develop an entire set of rules.
“How long do you get to play? I mean, there’s only one pickleball court,” he said. “Do you get to keep the court for an hour, or do you get to keep the court forever?”
However, Ortiz assured the residents won’t be “stuck with one pickleball court” eventually, Van Cortlandt Park will install one adjacent to the current court. Meaning the third largest park in New York City will have two.
The agency is also installing four pickleball courts, two in Crotona Park and two in Williamsbridge Oval Recreation center.
The parks committee approved the proposal unanimously. The board will vote on the resolution at the next full board meeting, said Debra Travis, CB8 parks committee chair.