Friday, May 17, 2024

Joe Cortez, in red, lines up across from Anuraag Gopaluni for a game of tennis at Hoyt Field in Cambridge on Tuesday. (Photo: Kate Wheatley)

A city decision to bring pickleball to the Hoyt Field tennis courts in Cambridge’s Riverside neighborhood has brought opposition from a small group of impassioned tennis players. They worry about competition for court time and that the sound of pickleball will disturb neighbors and are upset they received no notice before the project was decided.

Pickleball, a hybrid of tennis, badminton and pingpong played with a paddle and a hard plastic ball, was called the fastest-growing U.S. sport last year by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Inquiries for pickleball courts in Cambridge picked up starting in 2020 and 2021, said director of Cambridge recreation Adam Corbeil, when residents also made several calls for spending on courts during the city’s participatory budgeting process. In October 2021, city councillors called for a hearing on finding more space for players.

Noise complaints seem to be a common pickleball byproduct; residents by a court in Wellesley have demanded its relocation, and residents near one in Falmouth filed a lawsuit because of the noise of the solid-faced paddles hitting the game’s hard ball. According to the Pickleball Database, a game can be heard 200 feet away at almost the same decibel as a conversation with a person less than 10 feet away. The Hoyt courts are 50 feet from houses, meaning those residents will hear pickleball from their homes. “A pickleball game is significantly louder than tennis, with a difference of 22 to 28 decibels,” the site says.

While resurfacing two Hoyt courts June 15-16, the city added painted pickleball court lines. There was no notice of the addition of pickleball lines until the decision to paint them, neighbors said.

Neighbors and tennis players say they’ll be paying the price for the city’s actions.

Decades of history

Some Hoyt tennis players have been coming for decades. Born and raised in Cambridge, David Rivera grew up watching people play tennis at Hoyt from his bedroom window and became a ranked player in the U.S. Tennis Association New England and a coach for the men’s team at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Despite living in Connecticut, he comes to Cambridge every weekend to visit his parents and return to Hoyt.

“As a poor Cambridgeport kid who grew up with very little, I owe a lot to tennis, especially those great people at Hoyt who coached me, and I also owe a lot to those two beat-up old tennis courts,” Rivera said. Hoyt encompasses 4.7 acres with softball, basketball, playgrounds and the Willis Moore Youth Center near the Riverside-Cambridgeport line.

Given how busy the park is with tennis, Rivera said he’s worried pickleball traffic will cause tension on courts that have been home to a “cohesive community.”

“It’s not just the tennis court, really,” Rivera said. “It’s kind of an institution of communal gathering place for a lot of people.”

Lack of notice

Work on Hoyt Field‘s tennis courts in June took users by surprise, they say. (Photo: David Rivera)

Local players have cleaned and repaired the courts themselves for years, Rivera said, making the city’s resurfacing to make them multipurpose a “slap in the face.” In a letter to Corbeil, Rivera said he was “vehemently opposed” to pickleball at Hoyt and found the city’s lack of communication “concerning and disturbing.”

Cambridge resident Tim Wise, who has been playing at Hoyt for more than 40 years, called it “insensitive.”

“We are not hard to find here. We’ve made our presence known,” Wise said. “And you can’t even ask us a question?”

Bringing pickleball to Hoyt is the “gentrification of public recreation,” Wise said.

Councillor calls a meeting

City Councillor Marc McGovern said he hadn’t heard of the project until Wise reached out to him for an explanation. He was “blindsided” too, McGovern said, and set up an online meeting for July 10 attended by 13 tennis players, a neighbor and Corbeil.

Maggie Cummings, who plays tennis at Hoyt and attended the meeting, said she saw “no sign” that the city intended to reverse what she called a recreation department “mistake.” The players sent a letter afterward to Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, City Manager Yi-An Huang and the City Council emphasizing their desire for the lines to be removed from the courts, calling Hoyt the “wrong place.”

“It’s just this pitting pickleball players against tennis players, instead of finding pickleball players their own courts,” Wise said.

Rivera said the game should be doubled up with some of the city’s many basketball courts instead of tennis courts.

“Figure out how to all live together”

Pickleball and tennis are played side by side Monday at Joan Lorentz Park in Mid-Cambridge. (Photo: Kate Wheatley)

While failing to alert the neighbors and tennis players wasn’t good, Cambridge doesn’t have space for all of the community’s diverse needs and desires, McGovern said.

“We’re not some big, sprawling suburban town that has tons of open space where everybody gets their own thing, and that’s a challenge,” McGovern said. “We’ve got to figure out how to all live together and share.”

The community at Hoyt may not be willing. Claire White, Wise’s wife, plays pickleball and said she experienced animosity when she was at Hoyt.

“One of the players was clearly irked by even the idea that anybody would play pickleball, so I think that’s how tense this whole thing is,” White said. “It was such a visceral reaction.”

Rules for sharing

If the city is unwilling to remove the lines, the Hoyt players asked that they be included in the creation of new rules there. McGovern said they are “just painted lines” and could be removed, but also saw the need for an updated protocol if they remained.

“I think we have to do more than just throw some paint down and say, ‘All right, you’re all on your own to figure this out,’” McGovern said. “I don’t think that’s gonna work really well.”

Corbeil said he hopes the conversation about Hoyt continues. “One of the great ways we get to learn from each other is hearing from each other,” Corbeil said. “[I’m] open to learning and continuing the conversation with the community because I think that’s the best way to move forward.”

Since sending out their letter after the July 10 meeting, the Hoyt tennis players said they have received no substantive response as to what the city plans to do. The pickleball lines remain on the Hoyt courts and no rules have been set.