An avid tennis player who for the past 27 years has travelled from his Rockville Centre home to courts on Long Island’s east end to compete with a group of friends is trying to grow his new passion locally.
Frank Milillo joined the nationwide craze that is pickleball about a year ago and was so eager to return to action after four months of Covid-19 restrictions that he injured his shoulder due to overactivity. A recently appointed ambassador for the sport, he’s played as much as four days a week, four hours a day at Merrick Road Park, Hempstead Lake State Park and Peconic. Now, he wants to see courts constructed closer to home.
“It’s the fastest growing sport in the United States,” Milillo said of pickleball, invented in 1965 and featuring elements similar to tennis, badminton and racquetball. “Participation is off the charts,” he added. “It’s not as taxing on the body as tennis and a lot of people including myself find the social part of playing is just as important as the physical aspect.”
Last Saturday, Milillo met with Rockville Centre Mayor Frances X. Murray to discuss potential sites in town to be considered for pickleball courts. They visited the basketball and handball courts at Hickey Field on Sunrise Highway and also discussed the John A. Anderson Recreation Center.
“Anywhere you can find courts in Nassau County, they’re busy,” Milillo said. “It’s a sport for all ages. I know people who travel all over the country to play tournaments. One of my goals as an ambassador is to create something similar to a bowling league for pickleball.”
Pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court (20x44 feet) with solid paddles made of wood or composite material and a polymer ball, much like a wiffle ball. The height of the net is a few inches lower than a tennis net, which is 42 inches at the ends and 36 inches in the middle. Games are 11 points, however the winning margin must be at least 2 points.
“I’ve been an athlete all my life and I’m really enjoying pickleball,” said Veronica Chu, a Rockville Centre resident. “It’s so much fun and it doesn’t beat your body up. It’s a simple sport and the games go fast.”
A starter set of two paddles and four balls can be purchased for a little as $24.99 at www.pickleballcentral.com.
Kim Tiss, a Rockville Centre resident, began playing four months ago and would like to see a site to play locally. “It’s a lot of fun and I’ve met so many friendly people,” she said. “Weather permitting, I’ll try to play three or four times a week. It would be great to get courts in Rockville Centre.”
Mayor Murray, who also took a tour of the new courts at Hempstead Lake with Milillo and experienced playing pickleball for the first time, said he’s immediately looking into getting a few courts up and running at the Recreation Center.
“I had a blast playing and we’re really going to try to work on getting courts at the Rec Center this winter,” Murray said. “Eventually something can get done at Hickey Field, but we don’t have the money at this time. The Rec Center is the best resource we have right now. Nothing is set in stone, but it’s an exciting idea.”