Almost daily, Rockville Center resident Gerry DeBono and dozens of senior citizens can be found swinging racquets and socializing at pickleball games held at Hempstead Lake State Park.
“We play every day as long as the weather doesn’t prevent us from playing,” he said. “It must either be raining actively, or too cold, too windy, or there must be snow on the ground. We only missed four days this winter.
DeBono said he started playing last March and fell in love with pickleball, a racquet/paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis. Once he started playing more frequently, DeBono said, he got to know a few different groups of seniors who compete at the park. He then began organizing a group of 80 seniors to play daily matches there from 8 a.m. to noon on some of the facility’s six courts, dividing them into specific days and time slots. He said he was nervous, however, when he learned that Sportime Lynbrook would take over operations of the pickleball and tennis courts from the State Parks Department.
“It’s hard enough to have enough courts and enough court time without someone coming in here and saying we’re going to completely change the way you’ve worked out the arrangements,” DeBono said. “They didn’t even speak to us or give us an opinion.”
But Jeff Crown, Sportime’s chief executive, said his intention was not to negatively impact those using the courts and that he was aiming to improve them. He said the Parks Department no longer wanted to run them, and his company responded to a request for proposals and was selected to take over operations. While many details are not finalized, Crown added, the company was aiming to take over from April 15.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to improve it,” Crown said. “The Parks Department encouraged us to make it a place where people could meet after playing. We are going to redo the toilets and we plan to put a canopy and a table and chairs outside.
DeBono said he and his group had several concerns, including the cost of reserving courts, court availability and whether current Sportime members could get preferential treatment when booking. Crown said there would likely be a slight increase (the current fee to reserve a pickleball court at the park is $6 and it’s free in colder months, but Crown’s early estimates would see it rise to $10), booking will likely be available online via phones and computers, as well as in-person tours, and Sportime customers will not receive any special treatment. Although those taking lessons at Sportime can also train at Hempstead Lake State Park, Crown said, the plan is to organize it so that there are always open courts available for children. external reservations.
DeBono said after first learning the sport last March, he quickly fell in love with it. He started playing with five to ten other people, then met more and more people, and now dozens of them come to play every day. Even snow and rain usually don’t derail the enthusiastic group, he added, noting that they often shovel and scrape the courts.
To help prevent court privatization, DeBono also wrote to several elected officials. State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, wrote a letter to Erik Kulleseid, the commissioner of the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, noting that pickleball courts provide an outlet. recreational site for residents and that the park was a “Nassau County staple.”
“I call on your agency to back down and refuse to turn over management to a for-profit corporation,” he wrote, “as it will impede residents’ use and enjoyment of the park. These facilities belong to the State and, as such, taxpayers have already contributed to their construction and maintenance.
Crown said while not all decisions were finalized, he hoped the park would remain a fun place for everyone.
“The idea is that it’s new for us,” he said. “We will try to play by ear a bit and take care of people in the best way possible.”