Their game is pickleball

Intergenerational sport thrives in Glen Cove

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When he visited his parents in Florida five years ago, Eric Shuman, the activities coordinator for the Glen Cove Senior Center, was introduced to the sport of pickleball. Though he had 15 years of experience as a phys. ed. teacher and program director in the Great Neck School District, Shuman had never heard of pickleball, in which players use special paddles to volley a Wiffle ball back and forth over a net, combining elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong.

Although the game seemed simple enough at first, Shuman found himself losing to his parents over and over again. “I really wanted to learn more about the game so I could beat them,” Shuman, 38, joked. “When I saw that they were offering it here at the YMCA, I signed up.”

Under the tutelage of Ron Menzel, a YMCA member, Shuman dived into the world of pickleball, and fell in love with the sport. He and Menzel became its leading advocates in Glen Cove. Shuman introduced it at the senior center, and spread the word to local parks, City Hall and neighboring towns. He eventually became an official ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association. And after three years of discussions with the Glen Cove City Council, Shuman secured space for the city’s first official pickleball court, which was built at Stanco Park in July, a triumph for the city’s more than 100 active pickleball players.

On Sept. 13 at the park, Glen Cove resident and pickleball lover Isabel Eisen thanked Shuman for the court and his work in helping to popularize the sport. Eisen met Shuman in April 2017 at the city’s Jewish Community Center, where she learned the game When she visited Florida this year, she said, the state was “consumed by pickleball,” with seniors lining up to play five days a week at their local senior centers, parks and recreation centers. While Long Island doesn’t yet have pickleball fever, Eisen said she believed that given its popularity in Glen Cove, word would spread quickly.

“It’s not a sport, it’s a religion,” she said. “My husband loves it, too, but he’s currently recovering from an injury, so hasn’t been able to come out and play. He was so sad when I left him at home to come here.”

The regular games at Stanco are a far cry from their beginnings, when Shuman and his fellow players would make homemade courts around the city with tape, sometimes parking their cars around the perimeter and using their headlights to play at night. But the Stanco court, and an adjacent tennis court retrofitted for pickleball, give residents a proper, and safe, place to play.

Debbie Gray, 56, said she loved playing at Stanco Park. She initially tried the game in order to stay active and lose weight, but she was hooked after only a couple of games, she said. She has competed in a number of tournaments, including one last weekend in Queens. What really stood out about pickleball for Gray — and Shuman — was its intergenerational appeal. Players of all ages can engage in either friendly or highly competitive games.

“I once had an 81-year-old play circles around me,” Gray said. “It really is a game for everyone.”

Simranjeet Singh, 23, the youngest of Shuman’s pickleball crew, echoed that sentiment. Singh worked at the Glen Cove Y, where pickleball games were offered, and although he had never seen the sport, he was fascinated by it. After learning how to play from Menzel — and borrowing his paddle for months — Singh became a fixture in the Glen Cove pickleball community. He said that while someone younger, like him, would have an advantage over older players in any other sport, pickleball rewards experience and ball control rather than pure athletic ability.

“When you meet up with an older player, you might not think much of them,” Singh said, “but most of them have played tennis their whole lives, so they have a serious backhand. There’s so much you can learn from them, and what I love about it is that you feel like part of a group when you play, seeing the same people every week.”

As the game’s popularity continues to grow in Glen Cove, with dozens of residents meeting up in Stanco Park each week, Shuman hopes to introduce it in other towns. He recently spoke at a Village of Bayville board meeting, explaining how one of its tennis courts could be used for pickleball games. He is also hoping to introduce the game to the Boys and Girls Club of Locust Valley when its new facility is up and running in a couple of years.

“It’s a great game for kids, teen, adults and seniors,” Shuman said. “And it’s so addictive, I built my own court in my backyard.”