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    Monday, July 22, 2024

    Ocean Community Y expands pickleball program

    Left to right, Anne Haag of Stonington, Katie Beit of Mystic, Matt Engel of Mystic and Deloria Guerriere of Gales Ferry play pickleball on one of the six new outdoor pickleball courts at Ocean Community YMCA’s Naik Family Branch on Friday, June 21, 2024, in Mystic. The branch also has three pickleball courts indoors for the winter months. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    The six new outdoor pickleball courts were busy at Ocean Community YMCA’s Naik Family Branch on Friday, June 21, 2024, in Mystic. The branch also has three pickleball courts indoors for the winter months. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Clockwise from foreground, Anne Haag of Stonington reacts after scoring a point while playing pickleball with Katie Beit of Mystic, Deloria Guerriere of Gales Ferry and Matt Engel of Mystic on one of the six new outdoor pickleball courts at Ocean Community YMCA’s Naik Family Branch on Friday, June 21, 2024, in Mystic. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Three new indoor pickleball courts at Ocean Community YMCA’s Naik Family Branch are used by a Senior Wellness Class on Friday, June 21, 2024, in Mystic. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Stonington ― The Ocean Community YMCA has completed a $400,000 expansion of its pickleball facilities and programming in response to increasing demand.

    Thanks to community and national support, the Y’s Naik (Mystic) and Westerly-Pawcatuck branches held a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week to officially open the 13 freshly refurbished and painted pickleball courts at its Mystic and Westerly branches.

    “It’s only going to continue to explode and build,” Ocean Community Y President Maureen Fitzgerald said Wednesday.

    Fitzgerald said the project, was made possible in part by some 140 local donors contributing $100,000 over just three weeks, which allowed the Ocean Community Y to hire a part-time pickleball coordinator, start pickleball clinics and open 13 courts.

    Additionally, she said, of the more than 900 community YMCAs across the country, the Ocean Community Y was one of only six chosen to receive financial support from the YMCA to expand or implement pickleball programming.

    The freshly renovated facilities offer year-round play in two locations: six outdoor and three indoor courts at the Naik branch in Mystic and four indoor courts at the Westerly-Pawcatuck branch in Westerly.

    Additionally, both branches now offer pickleball clinics for beginners and more seasoned players.

    With 4.8 million players nationally, pickleball has been the nation’s fastest growing sport for the past two years, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

    A combination of tennis and ping-pong, played on a badminton-sized court with a paddle, perforated ball and modified tennis net, the sport is suitable for a wide range of ages, skill levels and abilities.

    “The whole purpose of pickleball is to be welcoming. It’s not this cut-throat sport,” Fitzgerald said.

    She explained the sport helps people stay active, and the friendly, fun, and accessible social game can help people ward off social isolation and improve their mental health. She noted that members have said the game has changed their lives.

    “We have stories on top of stories that say, ‘when I come and play pickleball, I’m like a new person,’ ” she said.

    Initially, Fitzgerald said, older individuals were responsible for the rapid growth of the sport, but recently the Y has seen an increase in players under 35.

    She attributed pickleball’s popularity to the community the sport creates.

    “People are coming together, from all different walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds, and it’s getting them to mingle; it’s getting them to meet new friends,” she said.

    “It aligns with the mission of the YMCA perfectly. The mission of the Y is to build healthy mind, spirit and body for all -- and the keywords are ‘for all,’ ” she said, explaining that the sport is accessible to people across all ages and to those who may have mobility issues.

    Fitzgerald noted the Y has seen players from 3 to 83 on the courts and said the 83-year-old is very good and beats her often.

    The Y also wants to broaden the accessibility of the sport. It is adding pickleball lessons as an activity at its summer day camp for children and hopes to develop a unified pickleball program that would allow individuals with disabilities, such as wheelchair users, to participate more fully.

    Fitzgerald said the organization has also begun talks with the developers of the former Hoyts/Regal Cinema property in Pawcatuck to potentially expand access for members to the new pickleball facilities that will be constructed as part of the commercial, residential and recreational development underway at the Liberty Street site.

    Use of the 13 new courts at the two branches is included in a YMCA membership. Non-members can purchase a day pass for $15, which includes use of all the branch facilities. In addition, 75-minute clinics are an additional $10 for members and $15 for non-members.

    Two-month single adult memberships start at $209, with discounts for students, senior citizens and families. Financial assistance is available for those who qualify. More information and schedules are available on the website at www.oceancommunityymca.org.

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