Northforker 50+: Pickleball’s all the rage in Riverhead

Pat Kazlauskas of Riverhead playing Pickleball at Riley Avenue School. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Pat Kazlauskas of Riverhead playing Pickleball at Riley Avenue School. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Artie Johnson didn’t have an easy time getting pickleball going in Riverhead.

When he built a court in the Calverton complex where he lives, only a few people bothered to play. Determined to spread word of the game he fell in love with down in Florida, he took his fight to Riverhead Town Hall.

But even there, the first few times he showed up, he got no results.

“I started getting a reputation,” the 71-year-old retired police officer said. “They started calling me ‘pickleball guy.’”

His persistance is beginning to pay off. 

Two years after finally agreeing to host a pickleball demo in the town, Riverhead’s recreation department now has a full roster of nearly three dozen pickleball players over the age of 55 gathering to play one night a week throughout the winter.

Riverhead recreation program coordinator Jim Janecek said it’s the fastest growing program the department has ever launched.

“We had 20 people sign up right away for the first demo,” Mr. Janecek said.

It’s in line with what’s been reported around the country: Pickleball is on the rise.

The sport is similar to tennis, but played on a badminton court with a lowered net, using a wiffle ball and ping pong paddles. The shorter court makes it more appealing to the growing number of baby boomers looking to stay fit.

Not unlike how the program slowly developed in Riverhead, the creation of the game was also slow to get off the ground. While it’s only begun to rise to national prominence in the past decade, it was actually invented — by a U.S. Congressman, no less — in the mid-1960s. Legend has it that Representative Joel Pritchard of Washington created the game when his family couldn’t locate a shuttlecock on vacation and instead used a wiffle ball.

Mr. Johnson, an avid bicyclist and vocal advocate for senior health and fitness, said he was first introduced to the game in 2006 at his winter home in Fort Myers, Fla. The program became so popular down there they now have as many as 40 players playing three nights a week.

Mr. Janecek said Riverhead will expand its program this year to continue in the spring and summer.

“Before we started, I didn’t realize how many people were interested in pickleball,” he said.

The sport is appealing to seniors because there’s less ground to cover than other racket sports, Mr. Janecek said.

“It’s an easier game than tennis,” said Mr. Johnson, who hopes the town will consider building a pickleball court at the Enterprise Park in Calverton. The sport is currently being played indoors at Riley Avenue Elementary School in winter and outdoors at Stotzky Park and South Jamesport Beach in the warmer months.

Mr. Johnson said he’s glad the program is catching on.

“I believe in an active lifestyle,” he said.“ You have to be active to stay healthy. I really believe that It’s just so important at our age.” 

13 Comment

  • How about for the people that are under 55? Playing pickle ball is a blast.

  • A Great game,.
    Just completed a court at my home & looking for players.
    Contact Joe:

    • I am interested in playing pickleball.Just learned the game the last 3 months in the VILLAGES AT FLORIDA,LIKE THE ACTION AND FUN.Please let me know where the location is and your contac number my number is 5169338184

    • love to play also need days times locations

  • WOULD LIKE to play pickleball at RIVERHEAD RECREATION PLEASE GIVE THE ADDRESS AND DAY THEY PLAY PICKLEBALL AND PUONE NUMBER.I am 66 and played the last two as a beginner in the villages inflorida

  • play racquetball for years..would like to play pickleball..where can i join up or find somewhere to play..thank you ,,david

  • I am trying to find out where I can play as a beginner, pickle ball

  • Hi, I am an active 62 yr old … a lot of tennis…. Played first time this winter in Arizona And loved it. If anyone can suggest anything…I’m from the wading River area….Thanks

    • Gordon, I’m also looking to play . I too live in Wading River. If you have any info please E-mail me. Also retired 67 yr old male.
      thanks, george h

  • Male, 67 yrs. Looking to play pickle ball, mournings at slotsky park, Riverhead.. George 631 662 4186.
    Thanks, gh

  • athletic husband and wife in early 60’s looking for pickle ball league in nothwest Nassau county and east of Riverhead on either ‘fork’..Played out in Seattle and had a great time. Anyone with info..let me know..Thanks

  • love the game looking for anyplace to play

  • I’ve been playing in Florida since January and am hooked. I love the game and look forward to playing when I get back home to Riverhead,
    If you have information about playing times can you please e-mail me