PROVINCETOWN — The Outer Cape community likes its own local vibe. But some out-of-town trends might be healthy ones. Case in point: pickleball. The sport, which is a mix of tennis and ping pong, has become increasingly popular across the four towns.
“I started to play with some friends a couple years back,” Kim Cromwell said. “Then I went all in. I decided to get my own net.”
Cromwell, who spends half her year in Provincetown and half in St. Petersburg, Fla., normally plays at the Chelsea Earnest Memorial Playground in Provincetown, where two courts are located. But the courts don’t have nets or lines — pickleball dimensions are smaller and the net lower than those used for tennis — so it’s a B.Y.O.N. (bring your own net) game.
“A few of us got out there and created pickleball lines using tape and chalk,” Cromwell said. “People would walk by on Nickerson Street and say, ‘What is that? Can I join?’ I met a whole community in Provincetown through pickleball,” Cromwell said.
It seems there’s a Provincetown-Florida pickleball connection of sorts. One of the people Cromwell met through the sport was Beth Goldstein, who also lives in Provincetown and Florida.
“In Florida, it’s crazy,” Goldstein said. She’s quick to point out that, in spite of its reputation, pickleball is not just a game for older players. There, the courts are “packed with people of all different ages and skill, she said. Goldstein admits the game is “a little addicting.”
Cherie Mittenthal, who is the executive artistic director of Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill, credits her late wife, Mary Dorothy “Dotty” Mulcahy, for helping introduce pickleball to the Outer Cape.
Dotty had lived in Truro, then moved for a time to warmer locales. When she moved back to the Outer Cape in 2014, Mittenthal said, she brought the sport she’d picked up in Tennessee and Arizona to Truro and Provincetown. “She turned a lot of people on to it,” Mittenthal said.
Artist Jen Rumpza also recalled Mulcahy’s role in bringing the game to town. Rumpza said she had played the sport in Boston, but it wasn’t until she moved to Provincetown full-time that she found a group of dedicated pickleball players.
“Dotty brought pickleball to the Outer Cape originally,” Rumpza said. Mulcahy died in 2019, so last year the community of players held a “pickleball extravaganza” in her honor.
In Eastham, there are two outdoor courts with lines and nets located behind town hall. Truro has pickleball available at the community center. But the pickleball players see room for improvement in Provincetown and Wellfleet.
Goldstein noted that simple fixes would make a big difference. For example, the recreation dept. could tape pickleball lines and purchase nets on wheels for the courts. Part of the problem, she believes, is that a lot of people in town don’t see recreation as a priority.
Provincetown’s situation may be improving. Recreation Director Brandon Motta said the two courts at the playground are currently being resurfaced and the thought is that this will include the introduction of lines on the court.
Cromwell is pleased about that. “Provincetown has been wonderful with us in repaving the courts,” she said. Though whether the courts will remain B.Y.O.N. remains to be seen.
There’s also the possibility of pickleball finding a home at Motta Field. At the May 1 town meeting, voters approved an item as part of the community preservation committee’s fiscal 2022 budget for $100,000 for a master plan for the playing field.
“The $100,000 approved at town meeting represents a community planning effort that will be led by a professional park consultant that will decide future upgrades to Motta Field,” Motta said in an email. “The department wants Motta Field to reach its full potential by planning for updates that more accurately meets the needs of all Provincetown community members.”
Pickleball will most likely be a part of that discussion.
In Wellfleet, where Goldstein’s girlfriend, Liz Grant, lives, the courts have been closed since the fall because of needed repairs.
Goldstein has her eye on those courts. “I’d like to go play there today,” she said.
Another issue is that players, even Wellfleet residents, have to pay to use those courts.
Wellfleet Recreation Director Becky Rosenberg said in a May 10 email that the courts will be undergoing repairs — they’re under warranty, she said — next week and she hopes to have them open by the week of May 17.
People of all ages can play pickleball. While it’s true that players skew older, not just here on the Outer Cape but across the country, USA Pickleball reports that is changing.
The average age of what they call core players — people who play eight or more times per year — is 51.5. But between 2015 and 2019 the proportion of core players ages 54 and younger grew from 25 percent to 40 percent, according to USA Pickleball.
What’s next for pickleball? “We’re hoping to make it an Olympic sport,” Cromwell said.