Pickleball moved to seaside for temporary noise mitigation

Alycin Yomtov, left, and Lisa Spinale, both of Marblehead, tap paddles after scoring a point while playing pickleball at Seaside Park. Photo by Spenser Hasak

At a Recreation and Parks Commission meeting Tuesday, the commission voted to temporarily move Marblehead Pickleball play from the Veterans Middle School courts to the courts at Seaside Park with temporary nets until March 17. At that date, weather permitting, all pickleball courts in town will open for the spring.

The move was in response to a presentation and request by town resident Maura Dartley-Rocco to mitigate the noise of the game outside of her home, which she says is severely impacting herself and other residents nearby. 

Dartley-Rocco referenced an article from crazypickleballlady.com titled “Respecting our neighbors – creating a quieter pickleball environment.” In the article, the writer notes that courts within 100 feet of houses can create noise up to 70 decibels, which is comparable to the noise level made by freeway traffic. The quick noise, referred to as “impulse noise,” is a result of hard-surfaced paddles making contact with the hollow ball used to play the sport. 

She said that this was her third time speaking to the commission about noise mitigation, and that she hoped something would be done this time for what she called “a crisis situation.”

“I was hoping that something would happen, but I don’t want it to be forgotten,” she said. 

In her presentation, she also referenced other studies and a colleague trained in acoustic training for children with sensory processing issues. She explained that the noise level from pickleball can create a number of mental and physical health problems including hearing, stress, anxiety, and even cardiovascular problems. 

Vice Chair Linda Rice-Collins, who has a master’s degree in health and was a physical education teacher for 38 years, commended her for the presentation, and said that everything Dartley-Rocco had referenced was true. 

“Every single thing she was saying that it does to your body, it absolutely does,” Rice-Collins said. “A lot of PE teachers go deaf because of the noise that reverberates off walls. It is realistic what she was saying.”

While Dartley-Rocco is looking to have the sound of the game reduced, she said that she is not trying to take the game away from players, or stop it from expanding in town.

“I’m not here to undo history or ask for any decisions to be reversed or anything like that,” she said. “I recognize the investment and the passion behind wanting to build pickleball courts and the pickleball players.”

Commission members said that they have been and will continue to look into acoustic matting to “blanket” some of the noise. However, because the courts are on school property, there are certain guidelines that they have to follow. For instance, the matting cannot block off the school, particularly in the back towards Edgewood Road, as the students need to be in full view at all times. 

Commission member Matt Martin, who is an avid pickleball player, suggested during the presentation that a potential compromise for the time being could be to wrap the surrounding fences of the courts. Martin said that the main issue was the sound reflecting off of the back school wall towards houses on Edgewood Road and Vine Street.

“I’ve played pickleball there dozens of times,” Martin said. “I think the backdrop from the PAC (Performing Arts Center), the high brick wall, the echo of the action coming off the brick wall coming back to your neighborhood – I think that’s one of the biggest problems.”

Commission member Karin Ernst, in response to the presentation and Martin’s suggestion, said that she had been in contact with a professional engineer familiar with pickleball noise mitigation, and is attempting to have him come into town to assess the situation. 

Rice-Collins said that in order for the issue to be resolved quickly and effectively the commission, pickleball players, and neighbors affected by the noise need to work together and do their part. She asked that Marblehead Pickleball look into the possibility of using noise-reducing paddles and balls when they become readily available.

“This could be a team effort with everyone in this room if we agreed that we’d all work together to try to get that noise down and use these balls that don’t make that kind of sound,” Rice-Collins said. “It needs to be a team effort, not just we put up a screen and end it. Everyone in this room needs to make a conscious effort so that we can all coexist.”

Rich Newburg, who was representing Marblehead Pickleball at the meeting, was happy that all parties seemed to have come to a compromise.

“The first thing I’m very happy to hear is that there’s solutions,” said Newburg. “All we want to do is play pickleball without ticking people off.” 

The commission, with the help of Dartley-Rocco and pickleball players, will continue to look into acoustic matting and noise-reducing pickleball equipment, though it was noted that expenses of the project need to be evaluated before moving forward.