Pickleballing seniors don’t like price hike

Pickleball players’ game is similar to tennis with a lower net, smaller court, and different paddle and balls. These players were on the court Monday, Dec. 17, in Yanity gym. — Macklin Reid photo
Pickleball players’ game is similar to tennis with a lower net, smaller court, and different paddle and balls. These players were on the court Monday, Dec. 17, in Yanity gym. — Macklin Reid photo

The pickleball rebellion of 2018 is, like so many wars and battles, all about the money.

“They tripled the price!” said John Spinosa, between pickleball games at Yanity Gym.

“We think it’s unfair,” said Dale Creighton. “Pickleball people have really supported Parks and Rec… The seniors — and that’s who plays, most of us are seniors — we supported the town. Now, we’re seniors and a lot of us are on limited incomes.”

“They raised the dues by something like 300%,” said Joe Piscitelli. “...They didn’t raise the other parks and rec fees, like yoga and all that.”

But Spinosa said he and other pickleballers in Yanity gym on Monday, Dec. 17, don’t have much choice but to pay the cost of their sport — whatever it is.

“Once you’re addicted to this, you’ve just got play,” he said.

The Parks and Recreation Commission has taken notice.

“There’s a lot of people talking about it, that are concerned by it,” Phil Kearns, commission chairman, said of the pickleball controversy.

Kearns doesn’t dispute that the price of playing pickleball at Ridgefield Parks and Recreation facilities — the Recreation Center and Yanity gym — is going up.

But he says pickleball is still a pretty good deal for Ridgefield’s seniors.

The 300% and 400% increase figures that have been bandied about aren’t inaccurate, so much as lacking context, according to Kearns.

Pickleball players currently need to be Recreation Center members, which costs $108 a year — or they can pay a $5 drop-in fee.

Starting in 2019, they’ll need a wellness membership — $216, starting Jan. 1, then rising to $324 Jan. 1, 2020, and up to $432 for 2021. The drop-in fee is going up to $8.

For someone playing pickleball two or three times a week — 130 times a year — the increase is from 83 cents per pickleball session to $3.32 per session, Kearns said.

The math

Here’s the math.

The committee of pickleball players the commission worked with said most hard core pickleballers play two or three times a week — two and a half times a week — which works out to the 130 times a year he’s using as a baseline. The sessions can be two or three hours, with people sitting-in and sitting out for games, which are kind of like mini-tennis, doubles, with wooden paddles and hitting a harder ball.

Before the increase, a senior citizen from Ridgefield could join the Recreation Center and play all the pickleball they want for $108 a year. Divide that $108 by the committee’s 130 pickle sessions a year, produces the cost of 83 cents per session, Kearns said.

The original plan — the much-decried 400% increase  — was to require a wellness membership, with the cost a senior resident’s wellness membership going to $432 a year in 2019.

If pickleballers are playing 130 times a year — the two or three times a week —  that’s a cost of $3.32 per session.

“When someone says our proposal was to raise it 400%, they’re absolutely right,” Kearns said. “It went from 83 cents to $3.32 to play pickleball two or three times a week, depending on the session.

“But people said: ‘Wait a minute. I’m paying $108 now — $432, that’s a huge increase all at once.’”

The cries of outraged pickleballers were heard, Kearns said — though the seniors playing pickleball at Yanity gym Monday didn’t necessarily agree.

Social aspect

The Parks and Recreation Commission essentially spread the planned increase over three years — aware that pickleball has become a significant thing in many seniors’ lives.

“The importance of senior socialization around pickleball — obviously, it’s fitness, but it’s socialization. We didn’t want to lose that,” Kearns said.

“People say, ‘I go out for coffee afterwards with my friends.’ Seniors who have moved to town have made a lot of friends through pickleball.”

So, the commission changed its original proposed, and will phase the cost hike in over three years.

“Our original plan was to make unlimited pickleball part of the Wellness Center membership. That’s $432 per year — $36 per month — for Ridgefield resident seniors,” Kearns said.

After talking to seniors from a pickleball committee, the commission revised the plan to go with the stepped increase over the three years — the $108 wouldn’t reach the $432 until 2021.

Using the committee’s typical pickleballer playing two or three times a week — 130 times over 52 weeks — the increases per pickleball session would be from 83 cents to $1.66 to $2.48 to $3.32 per session in 2021, according to Kearns’ logic.

“So, when somebody says it’s a 100% increase,” Kearns said, “it went from 83 cents to $1.66 per session.”

And, people who want to play pickleball don’t have to get a wellness membership — it’s just the most cost effective way for frequent players.

“People can still do the drop-in if you’re a five-times-a-year player,” Kearns said.

But for people playing a couple of times a week, it’s worth it — even with the increasing rates —  to get a wellness membership.

Other benefits

People moving up to a wellness membership also get more than just pickleball.

“With this wellness membership they will also get access to the wellness fitness center, and the pool, sauna, steam room,” Kearns said. “They will also get unlimited fitness classes. These are great benefits, although many say they don't want these — just pickleball.”

The “scholarships” that are offered for Parks and Recreation programs through town Social Services Director Tony Phillips apply to pickleball as well as summer camps for kids and other programs.

“Anyone can go to social services and work through them to mitigate the cost,” Kearns said. “And people are welcome to it. They have to prove a certain degree of hardship. If someone does that, and goes through Tony, we don’t know. We don’t want to know.”

Kearns said the Parks and Recreation Commission decided to raise the pickleball prices because the program had been thriving and growing for years, without the increases many other programs have had.

“We’re trying to be sensitive. We still think it’s a fair price to step it up,” Kearns said.

“We thought we did everything right. We formed a committee. We talked to them.

“What we should have been doing is raising pickleball gradually over the course of 10 years as the program has grown and used more and more resources,” he said.

“We have a revenue responsibility to the town. The Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance expect us to cover a certain percentage of our budget.”

But the commission backed off and went with a three-year phase-in because it recognizes the value of the town’s senior citizens and the importance pickleball has to many of them.

“If you’re a senior and you could no longer afford this, you’re being separated from a social outlet,” he said. “I think that was what resonated the most, and why we decided to do a stepped plan.

“If people can’t afford $432 — and I still think it’s reasonable —  it gives them time to work their way towards it.”