(July 12, 2019) Gorman Park in Caine Woods reopened Wednesday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the addition of a long-awaited pickleball court.
“We’re very proud of our recreation department, and what we are able to supply for our residents and visitors,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “Recreation is something we do for ourselves, and I think we always need to remember that…this is a really important part about our community.”
Gorman Park’s life began back around 1979 when developer Jim Caine donated the property to Ocean City to develop a park in Caine Woods.
Since then, the city has slowly added on to the park—a fiberglass skateboarding structure in 1979 or 1980, a tennis court in 1982 and a playground in 2005.
The next renovation plan began 11 years later.
“The idea for the current project … was developed in late 2016 after the completion of a ‘Vision Study’ conducted by Salisbury University’s BEACON program,” Director of Recreations and Parks Susan Petito said. “The study showed that there was much interest in pickleball in Ocean City.”
Pickleball was born in 1965 during a family vacation on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Washington.
The creators of the game were three dads—Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum—who created the game to entertain their children, according to the USA Pickleball Association’s website.
The dads originally tried to play badminton, but couldn’t find a shuttlecock, so they improvised by using a wiffle ball and by lowering the badminton net.
Today, pickleball is considered one of the fastest growing sports in the United States, with roughly 3.1 million players and 20,933 courts a 2018 Sports and Fitness Industry Association report found.
Ocean City was no exception, and Petito said that the city had seen a tremendous growth in the number of pickleball players.
The council began to do indoor drop-in programs in 2016. At that time, it offered pickleball programs once a week, and by year’s end, 2,905 people had participated in the program.
Since then, the number of days the program is offered has increased to five days a week. In 2017, 5,557 people participated in the program and in 2018 that number increased again to 7,200 people.
The lack of space and the popularity of the sport prompted the decision to add an outdoor court.
“In the summer, we are so busy with other recreational activities … that we really have to reduce the amount of pickleball that we can offer indoors,” Petito said.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) awarded the town $115,000 in grant funds toward the construction of the pickleball court.
City Engineer Terry McGean and the Engineering Department led the construction process.
However, some issues did arise during the development process.
“Unfortunately, we did have a little bit of pushback from the community with the way that our plan was originally drawn,” Petito said.
The community was unsatisfied with how the addition of the pickleball court would impede on the open space that the park offered to visitors.
To alleviate this issue, city officials reworked the plan so that the pickleball court, tennis court and racquetball court would all be in a line on one end of the 136th Street park.
By doing so, Petito said that they had managed to not encroach on any of the open space.
Nonetheless, this resulted in a lack of funds, as the racquetball court had to be rebuilt to fit the new plan.
“The grant was limited to $115,000, so the town chipped in…to be able to build that racquetball court,” Petito said.
In order to do this, City Council members looked into former projects for leftover funding.
“The mayor and council had budgeted some project money for … projects that happened a couple of years ago,” Petito said. “Overtime, some of those projects came in under budget, which left us with a fund balance [that] we were able to use to finish off this project.”
City Council members were able to scrounge up over $80,000 of leftover funding to offset the remaining costs.
At the ceremony, after the ribbon was cut, guests were invited to play pickleball on the new courts.
“We are always trying to provide leisure opportunities for our residents and our guests, and we are just thrilled that we are able to provide a new amenity in Ocean City,” Petito said.