A group of Forest Park pickleball players is pushing the Park District of Forest Park to give them more opportunities to play their game on the tennis courts — something that the parks worry runs up against liability concerns when it uses those courts for kids’ tennis lessons.

Pickleball has been exploding in popularity nationwide, and the western suburbs are no exception. The park district currently has 6 tennis courts at the southeast corner of the main park on Harrison Street. And while the area is surrounded by a tall fence, there is no separation of any kind between the individual courts other than the lines on the court. Three of those courts are striped for both pickleball and tennis, while the other 3 are tennis-only. The Roos Recreation Center also holds drop-in pickleball playing sessions during colder months. 

 The issue for pickleball players is that the entire tennis area is off-limits when the park district offers tennis lessons for kids and teens. During the July 20 Park District of Forest Park Board of Commissioners meeting, a group of pickleball players urged the park district to let them use the courts during the lessons, noting that the lessons only use the three courts not lined for pickleball. Jackie Iovinelli, park district executive director, said that, while she was eager to find a solution, the current stumbling block is legal liability — they simply couldn’t risk having adults in the same space as kids, even if they are under staff supervision. 

While pickleball has been around since 1965, the table-tennis-like game has been picking up popularity, sending the park district scrambling to keep up with demand. During the June 16 board meeting, Iovinelli said the park district doesn’t have much room to put in more pickleball courts, even after taking over most village-owned pocket parks. She also said tennis courts are still in demand, both from players and institutions that rent them out. 

According to the park district program brochure, this summer the classes are taking place on Monday-Thursday mornings, with early classes starting at 9 a.m. and the last classes wrapping up at noon. 

At the time, Iovinelli said that putting 2-4 courts where the batting cages currently are is a possibility, since they don’t get as much use as they used to, but such renovations would still be ways off. She also touched on the concerns about adults sharing space with kids.

“Our biggest concern. when it comes to any of our programs — these are children in this class, parents are dropping them off and entrusting us with their safety,” Iovinelli said. “Having strangers, people we don’t know, sharing space is something we do need to be concerned [about].”

Later during that meeting, pickleball player Diana Jackson of Forest Park, urged the park district to find a way to have pickleball players and kids taking tennis lessons share the courts. She suggested keeping the tennis lessons to the tennis-only courts and having the pickleball players stick to the dual-lined courts. Iovinelli and the park commissioners didn’t respond to her suggestions at the time, but the topic was included in the agenda for the July 20 meeting.

At least 9 pickleball players, including Jackson, showed up to that meeting. Bernadette Smith urged the park district to expand capacity, saying that having players from the region take advantage of the court would support Forest Park businesses.

“Please encourage more pickleball in our community,” she said. “We’re bringing people from all over the villages [in west suburbs] to play.”

Jackson urged the board to invest more in pickleball because, nationwide, its popularity was on the rise while tennis’ popularity was declining. She suggested the short-term solution of adding pickleball lines to all six courts and reiterated that they wanted to figure out a way pickleball players and tennis classes could share the space. 

“We’re not here to obstruct the park district tennis lessons, but what we would like to do is get better utilization for the pickleball users,” she said. “If there any concerns about us using the same gates as kids, open the gates in the back. We’d be happy to use different gates.”

Iovinelli said the issue of adults sharing a facility with kids remains a concern.

“If we have parents dropping off kids for [any] program, we wouldn’t allow anyone else to interact with the children supervised by our staff, because it’s a liability,” she said.

Several pickleball players came up to talk to Iovinelli after the meeting, with Jackson expressing frustration that “we can’t seem to move past” the safety concerns and emphasizing that the players were willing to work with the park district. The executive director said she was “in their court” and that, while she wanted to find a solution that worked best for everyone, she didn’t have one at this time. 

Iovinelli reiterated that point to the Review.

“It’s a complicated situation,” she said.