The PO-ed pickleballers — price-oppressed pickleballers, that is — won a seeming concession from Parks and Recreation officials, but pressed their case with a counter offer.
What the pickleballers have been battling is a planned four-year program of stepped increases in annual fees from $120 to $240 to $360 to $480.
“We’ve decided now not to proceed further than $240,” Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Phil Kearns told a delegation of about a dozen pickleballers.
“There may be increases, but they’ll be 2-3-4-5-6 percent,” he said. “... We’ve seen the letters to us. We’ve seen the letters to The Press.”
The pickleballers met with the Parks and Recreation’s staff and commissioners at an early-morning meeting of the commission’s budget and policy committee Thursday, April 4.
“We want to be the place people come to play pickleball,” Parks and Recreation Director Dennis DiPinto told the group that had come to the recreation center. “Both here and at Yanity — and outside.”
AnneMarie Surfaro-Boehme, an unofficial leader of the pickleball-playing group, spoke up after Kearns outlined the decision to hold the planned price increase at $240, plus inflation.
“We do appreciate that you’ve given us something,” she said. “We have something even better to offer. We’d like to offer a pickleball player punch-pass — little passes, little punch cards.”
Punch passes would provide discounted drop-in fees for pickleball.
“Maybe it comes to $200 for 100 plays,” she suggested.
She distributed copies of a flyer from Sarasota County, Fla., publicizing “Pickleball Punch Passes. Sold and accepted at all Sarasota County indoor pickleball program sites — 10 plays for $15/25 plays for $37.50. Daily drop-in fees are currently $2...”
“People love the flexibility,” Surfaro-Boehme said.
Drop-in fees are a point of contention for the pickleballers, since Ridgefield charges $10 to drop-in on pickleball sessions at either Yanity Gymnasium or the Ridgefield Recreation Center.
Kearns said that was the same drop-in rate as charged for other programs, like recreation swimming, or the Spray Bay sprinkler park for kids.
The price-hike that Parks and Recreation originally initiated had been packaged as part of a wellness membership.
Kearns said recreation officials had thought that once they had their wellness memberships, pickleball players would come to enjoy all the other benefits offered — the pool, health club, saunas.
The $240 fee is discounted 10 percent to $216 for Ridgefield-resident seniors — which covers most of the pickleball group. And there’s a non-resident surcharge of 25 percent that pushes the price to $270 for out-of-town seniors and $300 for non-residents under age 65.
“We don’t want a membership to wellness,” Surfaro-Boehme said.
Nationwide, there are 2.8 million pickleball players “making pickleball the fastest growing sport,” Surfaro-Boehme said.
“In Ridgefield, our players cannot afford this: $120 to $480. It’s too high, and it’s driving our players away. We need to get this rate lowered. We’re asking you to work with us...
“You’d make a lot of money on the pass-card,” Surfaro-Boehme said. “You’d bring in people from all over.”
In all, seven pickleballers spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“Even the $240 — it’s a 50 percent increase,” said Carol Guistino. “Many of us are married — that’s $500!”
“It’s a financial burden,” Joseph Adams said.
The pickleballers figure their sport is a low-overhead operation from the town’s point of view.
“The cost of pickleball is very, very low,” Ellie Hartog said. “Players bring their own paddles. Pickleball players set up their own nets ... No staff is required except for checking players in.”
Jairo Contreras said pickleballers were taking their business elsewhere, due to the high prices.
“About 50 percent of the players on Sunday are left,” Contreras said. “About 36 of us, we didn’t stop playing, we just found a better venue ...
“Now when we socialize before and after playing, we don’t socialize in Ridgefield. We socialize in other towns,” he said. “Our money’s not going to Ridgefield. It’s not going to the rec center.”
“The benefits are not just monetary,” Contreras said. “Pickleball brings multi-generational groups together, enhancing the lives of our residents by keeping them fit and mentally sharp and improving health and resilience in older adults.”
“We love the town. We don’t want to go elsewhere,” Margo Ingrassia said.
Ron Guistino said he and his wife, Carol, had lived in town for 32 years and wanted to stay.
“We decided to age in place,” he said. “A lot of other people have left Ridgefield and moved to sunny Florida. Not us. We want to stay here.” Guistino said.
The Parks and Recreation Commission’s had previously put out comparison prices to a lot of other venues, but they were “private clubs,” Guistio said.
“My understanding is, this is a not a private club,” he said.
Guistino had called around to public parks and recreation facilities in nearby towns and found most have no membership requirements, and charge $5 drop-in fee.
“Why are you singling out pickleball? Why not basketball?” Guistino asked.
“Drop-in basketball really is something that’s positioned for middle school children,” commission member Gina Carey said.
Kearns said drop-in basketball amounted to 19 hours a week for young people, and six and half hours a week for adults. Pickleball gets 39 hours a week of gym time.
“We run drop-in basketball for youth the way we run the skate park: We lose money on it,” Kearns said.
The idea is to have kids at town facilities, skateboarding or on the basketball court “rather than someplace they shouldn’t be.”
Seven days a week
Parks and Recreation’s pickleball hours as currently listed for two facilities go seven days a week.
Yanity Gym off Prospect Street hosts four hours of pickleball every weekday, with four courts open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.
In addition, there are two to four courts of pickleball play going on at the Recreation Center gym seven days a week, including evenings. The rec center gym hours are: Mondays, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays, 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Thursdays, 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., and then 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Fridays, 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays, 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.; Sundays (members only, December-April) 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
The pickleballers argued that hosting the sport cost the town very little.
“At 8 a.m. no one wants that space,” said Carol Guistino. “We come, we set up, we do everything.”
For their membership fee, players have access to 2,028 hours a year of pickleball, Kearns said.
“We rent our gyms from $55 to $60 an hour,” he added.
The Ridgefield Basketball Association, which runs youth basketball programs in town, pays to rent gym time.
“They pay us $50,000 a year,” Kearns said.
DiPinto, the recreation director, said the commission was looking into “permanently lining” town tennis courts for double use as pickleball courts, too, in the warmer weather.
The commissioners also said they hoped the pickleballers would form a committee of players that could work with the town.
“We absolutely want pickleball here,” Carey said. “We want pickleball to continue.”
Surfaro-Boehme agreed with that idea.
“This is our town,” she said.
“Ours, too,” said Kearns.
As the meeting drew to a close — some commission members had to get to work — Carey told the pickleballers their views would be taken seriously. But the budget and policy committee can’t make changes, she said. That requires the full commission, which meets next April 16 at 7:30 p.m. in the recreation center.
“You’ve provided good feedback,” she told the pickleballers.
“We are three of seven members,” Carey said. “... We have not said yes or no to a punch card,” she added.
“We love Ridgefield. We love the town,” Surfaro-Boehme said. “We just want to play pickleball.”