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Marco Y opens up 9 new pickleball courts

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Head pickleball instructor Mae Brown, foreground, plays a tricky "dink" shot against opponent Jen McCalla in an exhibition match.

Three years, plenty of planning and plain hard work later, the YMCA of South Collier (Marco Y) has unveiled its nine new pickleball courts.

It did so this past week with a "soft opening" that included some low-key speeches, an exhibition match that included top players including a former men's national champion, and some round robin play to familiarize players with the new facility.

The $600,000 project still requires some extra-cost refinements such as shading and bleachers, said the Y's CEO, Cindy Abounader-Love, hence the somewhat informal kick-off.

"So we need to continue fund raising to off-set costs," Abounader-Love said. "We're asking people to consider naming rights for the courts, the shading and bleachers, and also to buy pavers engraved with their names."

All eyes are on the ball during the exhibition match.

She added that getting this far this quickly (the Y board floated the notion less than three years ago) has been "simply amazing," and she paid particular tribute to her board, Y volunteers and indeed the construction company, Build, for their efforts.

The pandemic didn't do anybody any favors either, said board chair Ashley Lupo, except that outdoor activities such as pickleball suit many people.

"So it's a bit like a silver lining because people feel safer outside," she said.

Lupo said the courts were devised and built "in response to what people think will help them to live healthy, active lifestyles, and enjoy a sense of community with Marco."

She said the project had been one of the Y's high priorities because the sport is becoming so popular, and that members as well as day-pass players are welcome to enjoy the new courts right now.

Build construction manager Jake Rodden said a special feature of the courts is their "cushion" surface, consisting of six to 10 layers of rubberized coating on top of the concrete before being painted in traditional colors.

"It's easier on the joints and knees," Rodden said.

By now, even non-players know the game is basically a combination of tennis, badminton, racketball and table tennis played with paddle bats and a plastic wiffle-like ball, but a quick chat with contract instructor Jodi Pree offered some added insight into tactics.

The nine courts fill up immediately after the soft opening.

One is "dinking," in which players probe opponents with what amount to drop shots in the blocks on either side of the net.

It's a matter of patient dinking until one player either makes a mistake or returns the ball too high, giving an opponent the opportunity to put it away with a smash - provided they then don't step over the "kitchen" line and into the "non volley zone" nearest the net.

You'll understand, promise, if you do as board chair Ashley Lupo said to close her speech: "Let's go play pickleball."

Soon, head instructor and championship player Mae Brown is due to give this writer a lesson, and his impressions (as a previous tennis and racketball player) will be forthcoming – dinking, smashing and not infringing the "kitchen" included.

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For information on donating to the project, or for playing times and fees, contact the Y, and for more info on its wide variety of programs and activities for adults and children, visit marcoymca.org or call 394-YMCA (9622). Follow on Twitter at ymcamarco; on Facebook @marcoymca, and Instagram at ymcamarco.