Frank Milillo is thriving in his voluntary position as a pickleball ambassador for Rockville Centre.
An avid tennis player for 27 years, he’s developed a passion for what’s become the fastest-growing sport in the country after giving it a try about a year ago. And though he’s currently sidelined with a shoulder injury, that didn’t stop him from growing the sport locally.
In a matter of weeks following meetings with Rockville Centre Mayor Francis X. Murray and RVC Recreation Center Acting Superintendent Karen Polito, a pickleball league became a reality.
“I never thought it would come together so quickly, but I’m glad it did and everyone is excited,” Milillo said. “The spots filled up so fast and I expect the same for the next session. The Rec Center has been great to work with and I think this can be an incredible thing for the long term.”
Pickleball, invented in 1965 and featuring elements similar to tennis, badminton and racquetball, made its debut at the John A. Anderson Recreation Center on Dec. 2. It found ample room for two portable courts upstairs and one downstairs.
“We had a successful first full week of pickleball,” Polito said. “The Rec Center is so excited to offer this new activity for adults. We are fortunate to have the space to accommodate it and to work with our pickleball ambassador, Frank Milillo who organized the entire league.”
The sport 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.
“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,” Milillo said. “We created leagues for beginners and competitive players, and we’re also looking to hold some clinics soon.”
Murray met with Milillo in November and they discussed potential sites for pickleball courts. They visited the basketball and handball courts at Hickey Field on Sunrise Highway in addition to the Rec Center before heading over to Hempstead Lake State Park, where Murray experienced playing the sport for the first time.
“It’s really taken off,” the mayor said. “Hopefully there will be more time and more space for the sport to grow in Rockville Centre.”
Eileen Garry of Rockville Centre said she was scrolling through Facebook when she came across the newly established RVC Pickelball page. “I saw it was open to beginners and wanted to give it a try,” she said. “I’ve played tennis for a long time. The biggest differences are both players on the same doubles team serve after each other, and also the scoring.”
The league fee is $200 and covers 20 hours of play over a 10-week period. For the first winter session (in progress), there were two-hour time slots to choose from Wednesday to Sunday. Milillo expects the next winter session to start in early March and offer the same two hours of court time. Information can be found on the RVC Pickleball Facebook page, which has over 150 followers already.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Garry added. “I got my good friend [Jeannie King] to join and am trying to get my husband to fit it into his schedule for the next session.”
A starter set of two paddles and four balls can be purchased for a little as $24.99 at www.pickleballcentral.com.