Displaced by York St. arena fire, Greater Napanee Pickleball Club finds new home at SPC

Greater Napanee Pickleball Club members play at their new home, the banquet hall of the Strathcona Paper Centre. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

Adam Prudhomme

One week after the York Street arena fire left the Greater Napanee Pickleball Club without a home court, they were back in action, making use of the SPC Banquet Hall.

In fact, a handful of club members that were scheduled to play that fateful Oct. 23 morning still managed to get in a game, driving to the outdoor courts of Bath to play in the rain. The following week they had taped off courts on the floor of the SPC Banquet Hall and play resumed.

While they make the most of their situation, they still miss their old home. As many tributes to the arena’s early days have poured in the last month, members of the Pickleball Club were among the last people to use it before its untimely demise.

As I read (the tributes), it leads me to believe that the old girl was done up and put away and dead. That’s far from the truth,” said Bill Casselman of the Greater Napanee Pickleball Club. “The old arena was alive and well. It’s home to the archery group, it’s home to the Sea Cadets, which was growing all the time, it’s home to the fly dogs and mainly it’s home to the Pickleball Club. Actually there’s three pickleball clubs that use it, but we were the first.”

As one of the few indoor facilities capable of housing a large pickleball club, the Napanee chapter would welcome in members of Stone Mills and Bath during the winter months. At its peak, there were upwards of 400 members who played Monday through Thursday at the old arena.

It’s not good. It’s too tight,” Casselman said of having to shift to the SPC. “We had to split the family up as we call it. We’ve got over 100 members and normally we run between 40-50 a day and then in the old arena we had eight courts. In this arena we’ve only got four. So we have to break it up so we split them between competitive and non-competitive.”

That will be their setup for the winter months until the ice is taken out on the Home Hardware rink-at which point the Pickleball Club will have use of that cement floor.

Long term plans would be, we have talked to the mayor, we’ve talked to the Fair Board, with the hopes that somebody is going to build something in this town, ASAP,” said Tammy Gilles of the Greater Napanee Pickleball Club. “I think the Fair Board will probably erect something, but what that looks like, we don’t know. We can’t predict what will happen here but we’re very hopeful that there’s enough interest with enough community groups that people are putting bugs in the right ears and we can get some grants and monopolize on some of these new companies that are coming to town.”

Casselman says they’re willing to do what it takes to get back to what they had on York Street.

We need the town to put in some grants and let us know what we need to raise,” he said. “We’ll get a fundraising committee and we’ll raise whatever we need to raise, just like we did for the (SPC).”

In tribute to their former home, the club recently got together for an Irish wake in its memory, complete with a poem penned by Cathy McDonald.

We’re like a family,” said McDonald. “Everybody cares for one another.”

John Tomlinson, a fellow club member, agreed.

It’s like grieving,” he recalled of when he heard the news about the fire. “Just like a death in the family because I wondered if the club would ever together again because there just aren’t enough venues around to hold as many members as we have.”

Thanks to some ingenuity by club organizers, there will be pickleball in town this winter, even if its not ideal.

Hailed as the fastest growing sport in the world over the last five years, pickleball is perhaps best described as a cross between tennis and ping pong. Using a paddle and a hollow plastic ball, competitors will volley the ball back and forth over a 34-inch high net, with the aim of having the opponent unable to return the ball to the other side. Games can be played one-on-one or two-on-two and has proven to be popular among seniors though it continues to expand and enjoyed by all ages.

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