Senior citizen brings pickleball to Marine Park

Fierce competition: Mel Shapiro, Jean Wilson, Donna Melli, and Michael Chaiet broke a sweat playing pickleball last Friday, where Marine Park residents gather for the weekly face-offs.
Brooklyn Paper
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He’s in a real pickle!

A Mill Basin elder has no more free time after introducing the sport of pickleball to southern Brooklyn’s senior community, which has taken to his weekly tournaments in Marine Park like a cucumber to brine, and forced the trend setter to abandon his other passions.

“Now I can’t go to tap dancing lessons because I’m teaching pickleball!” lamented 77-year-old Bob Spieler.

Pickleball — which crosses elements of tennis, badminton, and pingpong — took off in 2009, when senior communities nationwide adopted the sport, which benefits from a small court, light paddle, and doesn’t require much running around. Spieler learned the sport while wintering in the famed snowbird state of Florida, where nothing moves real estate like a good pickleball court, he said.

“Every community in Florida has pickleball, and if they don’t they can’t sell a house,” he claimed.

But Speiler was crushed to discover that residents back home in Mill Basin had never heard of the sport, and that Brooklyn houses only a handful of indoor pickleball courts spread across the borough.

Speiler worked with the Marine Park Active Adults and Senior Center to begin hosting pickleball matches every Friday morning at Marine Park’s paddleball courts, and it didn’t take long before the list of competitors grew long in the tooth, attendees claimed.

“I have really taken to the game,” said Michael Chaiet, 68, who began playing pickleball at the Sunset Park Recreation Center, and now partakes in the Friday games at Marine Park. “It’s not as demanding as tennis, but has all the action.”

Spieler and his growing group of pickleball players hope to raise funds to buy more nets and to eventually build a permanent outdoor court in Marine Park. Currently, participants have to arrive early to draw the correct pickleball markings with chalk on the paddleball courts.

“It takes a while to measure and set up,” Chiaet said. However, the organizers have a lot of help setting up and breaking down the court — Chiaet and Spieler claimed that the games drew more than 40 players in their fourth week.

And while Spieler’s tap dancing shoes haven’t gotten much wear since he brought pickleball to the borough, he could have guessed this would happen, saying no senior can resist a good game of pickleball.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Spieler said. “I haven’t met a senior who hasn’t had a good time.”

Reach reporter Rose Adams at or by calling (718) 260–8306. Follow her on Twitter @rose_n_adams
Posted 12:00 am, September 4, 2019
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