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Youth leagues, families want to whack pickleball out of Greenwich Village playground, but ‘ambassador’ tries to keep the peace — and a piece of the space

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Along with the incessant, loud “plunk!” of its plastic balls, Pickleball is generating strong passions in Greenwich Village. Its players, of all ages, love the fast-growing paddle sport and are scrambling to find sufficient court space wherever they can. But local kids and parents at Seravalli Playground a.k.a. “Horatio Playground,” at Hudson and Horatio Streets, for one, charge that the pickleballers are invading the traditionally open and unprogrammed space, and that the kids are losing out.

A petition launched three weeks ago by a group called Families United for Open Play, and demanding that pickleball be banned at the West Village playground, had garnered more than 3,100 signers as of this article’s publication. The petition is supported by the area’s four largest youth sports organizations, including Downtown United Soccer Club, Greenwich Village Little League, Downtown Giants (flag football) and Steady Buckets (basketball).

“The unique, wide-open blacktop area is the only dedicated and protected, expansive play area where children can freely move in all of the West Village and Greenwich Village,” the petition states of the 60-year-old playground. “Horatio Park was a vital community gathering place and the heart and soul of life for many West Village children and families, a haven they have peacefully shared with other adult users, such as rollerbladers, basketball players and skateboarders, as well as residents of all ages who choose to walk through the space and soak in the microcosm of urban family life it contains.”

The petition ends with the demand to the Parks Department: “Immediately end all pickleball at Horatio Park and return the playground to its intended use — an inclusive, multiuse community space for free play.”

Broad pickleball pushback

The sports leagues charge that the national pickleball association is coaching local representatives to try to persuade the Parks Department that Seravalli and other Village playgrounds are “underutilized.” However, Ken Blacklow, a Village dad and leading critic of the pickleball invasion of Seravalli, said the petition, in how it is being backed by local youth groups, speaks for itself.

“The support of these organizations shows that accessible, open playground spaces to run and play freely are crucial to the well-being of kids,” he said. “In addition, it shows that the pushback isn’t limited to just a few parents. It includes the support of all the organizations and communities — like the skateboarding community — that rely on these kinds of playgrounds for kids to engage in a plethora of activities, not just one activity.”

A rendering provided by Ken Blacklow showing how pickleball often completely overtakes Seravalli Playground. Only two of the courts — outlined in white — are authorized by the Parks Department.

Blacklow provided an aerial map of Seravalli with pickleball courts marked out on it, to show the extent of the takeover that often happens.

“Any time on a sunny weekend, there are 10 to 12 courts set up,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Meanwhile, The Village Sun had a sit-down two weeks ago with Katherine Hedden, Manhattan’s leading pickleball advocate, to hear her side of the story more thoroughly. A few days earlier, the newspaper had reported on the “pickleball panic” in the Village. The Sun had reached out to Hedden through her Instagram page for comment for that article. However, Hedden — who is an artist and retired former post-production editor at ABC News — said she rarely checks Instagram, other than to post photos of her artwork on it, and did not see the message until after that initial article’s publication.

Official pickleball ambassador

Hedden proudly said that since 2018 she has been the “pickleball ambassador” for Manhattan for the U.S.A. Pickleball Association. She drew a clear distinction between her efforts to help methodically grow the sport in the borough and find more space for courts versus what she called “rogue” players who randomly invade playgrounds and set up their nets.

Hedden, who is also a pickleball instructor, said there are official pickleball ambassadors everywhere throughout the country.

“They promote the sport of pickleball,” she said. “There are massive numbers — we’re all over.”

Pickleball takes Manhattan

Dressed in a charcoal-gray athletic outfit with pink trim, Hedden, who lives on the Upper East Side, was on her way next to The Vessel in Hudson Yards, to participate in a pickleball pop-up there with two Long Island City women pickleball entrepreneurs. The pair aim to open an indoor pickleball place with four courts and a bar/restaurant in Manhattan called Drink and Dink, referring to pickleball’s “killer” drop shot over the net.

Basically, Hedden openly advocates at every opportunity for more space for pickleball courts. For example, she noted that a couple of years ago she attended a meeting at Community Board 6 to try to stop the Parks Department from covering the St. Vartan Park blacktop ball field, at 35th Street between Second and First Avenues, with artificial-grass turf.

“We tried to say that they’re taking away 12 pickleball courts,” she recalled.

Another spot she has identified for possibly two permanent pickleball courts is Hell’s Kitchen Park, at 47th Street and 10th Avenue.

Central Park’s North Meadow Recreation Center, meanwhile, is slated for two permanent, dedicated pickleball courts (with permanent nets), plus three multipurpose courts.

“If you go to Central Park, there are 100 people waiting: ‘Paddles down,’ we call it,” she said, referring to how players lay their paddles in a row to mark their space in line for a court.

Pickleball night games

According to Hedden, the Hudson River Park Trust also plans next year to provide four dedicated pickleball courts in the West 30s blocks by the river that will have permanent nets. These courts, she said, will also boast solar-powered lights, so pickleballers can play into the evening, though not past the park’s curfew. There are currently two pickleball courts in Hudson River Park, but players must bring their own nets. The Trust, however, is not taking away any space from the popular tennis courts at Canal Street.

Katherine Hedden said various parks and playgrounds in Manhattan will be adding pickleball courts — though, so far, not in great numbers. (Photo by The Village Sun)

There is also a lot of pickleball being played indoors at Parks Department recreation centers around the city, she added. Some pickleball-crazed Manhattanites are even leaving the island to find space to play the sport, such as in Hoboken or at Brooklyn’s Pier 2.

So, clearly, pickleball is making rapid inroads, especially in Manhattan. However, Seravalli, she noted, is “a different case.”

‘Pickleball is here’

“Everyone else has realized pickleball is here,” she said, “and they’re co-existing in one way or another. Even at St. Vartan, if four groups are playing pickleball and there’s someone wanting to play tennis [against one of handball court walls], they give them the court.”

The Parks Department has provided two pickleball court spaces at Seravalli Playground — however, this use of the space never went through any public review and so was never officially approved by Community Board 2.

Hedden acknowledged there are lots of overlapping uses at Seravalli — but she indicated that kickball, not pickleball, is the real danger. She personally was seriously hurt by a kickball league player there while she was watching a pickleball match.

“I got injured and sent to the hospital,” she said. “A kickball league was there twice a week. A guy was going for a home run and knocked me on my back.”

According to Hedden, the Parks Department subsequently kicked the kickballers out of the playground because they had deceptively gotten a permit for basketball, but then used it for kickball.

Portable nets enable ‘rogues’ 

However, beyond the two courts marked off by Parks at Seravalli, rogue players have also invaded the playground. Hedden said they’re aided by the fact that pickleball nets are light and very portable.

“You ever see someone carrying a tennis net?” Hedden asked. “Pickleball nets are light. You carry them like you carry groceries.”

Things came to a head at Seravalli on Sept. 17 when, as she put it, “The parents were just going crazy at me. This blonde woman and someone else were literally in my face. I said they couldn’t talk to me like that. I did talk with a dad who was calm. It was a Saturday morning — it does get crazy down there. I heard there were problems. I went down there — and when I saw all the courts that were chalked [with lines for pickleball], I was flabbergasted.”

Parks Department workers recently used anti-graffiti materials to remove the painted lines for some of the unauthorized pickleball courts at Seravalli Park. (Photo by Mar Fitzgerald)

Hedden subsequently talked with a Parks deputy commissioner and proposed that two more pickleball courts be added at Seravalli, for a total of four. The Parks official reportedly told her that the department has been doing “surveys of traffic flow” at the park for the past year. Hedden is suggesting the two new courts be placed perpendicular to the existing ones.

Katherine Hedden said she is pushing the Parks Department to add two more permanent pickleball courts on the western side of Seravalli Playground next to the two existing courts that Parks has allowed. (Ilustration by The Village Sun)

“I have no problem with calling Park Enforcement Police,” Hedden said of the rogue players. However, she added, “It’s not my job to police. I am not responsible for the rogue guys with their nets. … A lot of those 30-year-old men are arrogant.” She also described them as Wall Street types.

Slams ‘kamikaze kids’

Hedden, in the reader comments in The Village Sun’s previous “pickleball panic” article, dropped a pretty inflammatory statement, accusing some Greenwich Village parents of intentionally sending their kids in to disrupt pickleball games, and that this behavior should, in fact, be investigated by “Child Services,” the city’s Administration for Children’s Services.

“Parents [are] using the children to throw balls and picnic on the two designated courts painted by the Parks Department,” Hedden posted. “Child Services should be called.”

In the interview with The Village Sun, she didn’t back away from her statement.

“They sent their kids on the court to throw balls at us, kickballs, footballs,” she said of the Sept. 17 blacktop clash. “Then the one kid was throwing his ball at the net. I said, ‘If you break the net, I’m calling the police.’ He said, ‘Are you going to call the police on a kid?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I will, you’re damaging property.’ And the father came over and said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I said, ‘You’re letting your kid damage property.’ He just stared at me. He called Park Enforcement. I helped the Park Enforcement clear the space. I told the Park Enforcement, ‘You’re going to have to come every weekend.’”

Finally, according to the ambassador, one “angry dad” stood on one of the pickleball courts during the face-off and allegedly told her, “I’m not moving — we want you gone.” Hedden said she “couldn’t deal with it” anymore and left.

Not backing down

“But I won’t back down,” Hedden vowed to The Village Sun. “I’m not going to advocate for getting rid of those two courts. We want to work together.”

At another point, she said, “It’s been their community park and now they have to open it up. People don’t like change in that area,” she added, meaning the Village.

A pickleball doubles game at Passannante Playground. Nine courts are still marked on the W. Houston St. space’s blacktop thanks to a recent tournament, but the Parks Department only plans to keep two, according to Katherine Hedden, who is pushing to keep more. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Passannante Playground, at Houston Street and Sixth Avenue, is also heavily used by pickleballers. However, there’s currently no petition there, like at Seravalli, to kick out the players. But that doesn’t mean it’s been smooth “pickling” there, either.

“Oh, there’s been friction,” Hedden assured.

The main difference is that while Passannante is a “permitted” playground — meaning permits are needed for larger, organized sporting events — Seravalli does not require permits and is instead slated for “open use,” which parents say is perfect for young kids to play freely and safely.

The pickleballers — at least some of them — pay for a seasonal permit at Passannante. It’s where Hedden herself usually plays.

“Passannante is the only permitted pickleball court in Manhattan,” she said. “We have a permit.”

Passannante kid was P’d off

This past summer, Hedden and a group of women played at the Houston playground on three or four pickleball courts on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. But some local kids didn’t like it, Hedden said, noting that once, after she and a father had words, a 12-year-old defiantly peed on the wall of Villa Mosconi restaurant that’s adjacent to the playground.

“Because he didn’t even like that we were telling him to stay on the west side of the asphalt,” she scoffed. “I said, ‘I have a permit.’ The father said, ‘Well, they’re kids.’ I said, ‘Don’t start with me.’ The parents put the kids up to this bad behavior. They’re teaching them to behave this way. I raised two kids. If you can’t teach your kids to negotiate, is your kid going to be a Ted Cruz or a Jim Jordan?”

The pickleballers use TeamReach to coordinate who will be bringing nets to set up courts. (Photo by The Village Sun)

This summer the city painted nine pickleball courts at Passannante for a tournament. But she said Parks plans to resurface the playground and is saying it will only put back two of the courts.

“We’re going to fight to keep it at nine,” she said. “We’re going to try to keep as many as we can. So it’s in negotiation.”

Not just for white people

Hedden also slapped down the notion that pickleball is an all-white sport.

“They’re all white down here,” she conceded. “But we have a lot of minorities playing and in other areas — just not the West Village.”

Meanwhile, Hedden declared that young kids are now joining the pickleball games at Seravalli and enjoying it.

“The community’s not happy — they think it’s their park,” she said. “But pickleball’s not going away.”

LeBron is in, too

“It’s going to be an Olympic sport in two years,” she added. “LeBron James just bought a team — there’s a professional pickleball league. Last week, I played with a 16-year-old and an 80-year-old who had a heart transplant — that’s the beauty of the sport.”

She showed on her phone how the players organize using an app called TeamReach, noting, “The whole pickleball community works off of this.” As of two weeks ago, the Central Park pickleball group had 1,782 members, Seravalli 1,018 members, Passannante 993 and St. Vartan 800. A Facebook page, NYC Pickleball Manhattan, that she maintains has 1,600 members.

As for the selfie of herself and Councilmember Erik Bottcher that Hedden posted on her Instagram that has raised the ire of pickleball foes, Hedden said it’s a few years old, actually taken when Bottcher was still Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s chief of staff.

“That was from the 9th Avenue Food Festival in Hell’s Kitchen — before COVID,” she said. “I saw him and introduced myself. I said, ‘Is there anything you can do for pickleball?’”


  1. Handball Resident Handball Resident October 31, 2022

    The Parks Department gives children’s playground space for pickleball courts without telling residents.

    The Parks Department gives the handball courts on West 4th St./6th Ave. to petty criminals as their all-day/night hangout with plenty of seating, drug sales, liquor and cardplaying. No handball playing there. No pickleball players either.

    Pickleball players are “tightknit and organized” but too afraid of the vagrants who occupy the West 4th St. handball courts. So pickleball players claim they have no room and make deals with Parks to take children’s playground space.

    Pickleball players should play on the W. 4th St Handball Courts before they claim there’s no room for them and before the Parks Department makes more under-the-table deals with them.

    Parks’ job is to maintain our parks, not to give handball courts to vagrants and children’s playground space to pickleballers.

  2. Stefan Stefan October 20, 2022

    The woman in this article makes it sound like she disassociates herself with “rogue” players who set up nets in undesignated courts and invade playgrounds. The truth is, however, that my child and I ran into her in the early spring of 2022 at this exact playground. She pushed us aside (we were playing catch with a football at the time) while she set up a fourth net, and put tape down on the ground to mark her territory in an undesignated space. She replied that there is plenty of space, just move over so we can set up this court. I asked her, “Are you comfortable with stealing space from children?” and she quickly and shamelessly dismissed my concerns, while identifying herself as a Manhattan ambassador of pickleball.

    The kickball group that is mentioned in this article showed up to the park this very same day. I mentioned to her the danger involved with kickball and these activities in this park, because organized kickball and pickleball both disrupt the natural flow of the park’s intended open-play concept. Her remarks were that we can all coexist. Anyone from this neighborhood, child or adult, that has spent enough time in this park knows that these activities cut off the natural energy and flow of this space.

    This park, prior to pickleball, was a wonderful place where all people exchanged in a beautiful partnership collectively, no matter what activities they were engaged in — it just all flowed together. This all changes when lines are drawn to mark off territory, and nets are erected that cut off the natural flow of this park’s open play. It’s a shame that she got injured, but I can’t say I didn’t warn her.

  3. Matthew Matthew October 19, 2022

    Perhaps it is time to expand the playground and nearby green spaces so there is more recreational space for everybody. We can close Gansevoort Street north of the Seravalli playground to expand the playground and pavement area and we close Horatio St south of Jackson Square to expand Jackson Square and create a few pickleball courts.

    • Louise Louise October 19, 2022

      Ok, Matthew. You think the neighbors who actually LIVE by Seravalli want to hear the twack twack twack of pickleballs hitting the paddle all day long around the apartments they call home? And deal with closed streets? Get a life!

  4. sdk81 sdk81 October 18, 2022

    “…accusing some Greenwich Village parents of intentionally sending their kids in to disrupt pickle ball games… .” This exact situation happened to my 24-year-old son at Horatio Park the other day. He had no idea of the controversy. He grew up in that park and understands the need for recreational outdoor space in the W. Village (and all over!). Park police were also called that day. And that raving dad was in everyone’s face. Everyone needs to calm the F down and compromise. Maybe not 4, 8 or 12 courts — but 2. And deal with it West Villagers! (I’m a 30-year resident).

  5. Roberto Roberto October 18, 2022

    You know, pickleball is a horrible and dangerous sport that needs to be outlawed. The other day I was walking my cat at Seravelli. I thought, “Hell, why not? You spend all day sleeping. You do nothing but cry for hugs and pee in the same corner between the bookshelf and the guest room door, and you eat the equivalent of a baby humpback whale a year, which costs as much as my car insurance! You need some exercise, mister.” So, I’m walking my cat around the park, on a leash no less, because I like to be safe in case we encounter a dog and he decides it’s time to jump on a tree, like he did last time, and one of these despicable pickleball players comes chasing after a plastic ball and kicks my cat in the face. Now, he claimed he didn’t see the cat, and I said, “How did you not see a cat? I’m standing here with a leash. The thing is clearly visible! It’s an orange cat! Like Garfield. It’s also the only cat attached to a neon green leash. What are you, blind?” Anyway, he kicked Mr. Rogers right in the eye and I spent the next 24 hours mending his eye with double-headed cotton swabs because my poor cat kept scratching at his eye all day. Just… unforgivable. This sport needs to be banned immediately, in all countries, not just the U.S.

  6. SoHo Central SoHo Central October 18, 2022

    Ms. Hedden, a recent transplant to NYC from New Jersey, seems to delight in offending Downtown locals. But she does not live in the Village or anywhere near Downtown, but on 48th Street.

    Are there no playgrounds in Midtown or Uptown?

    Well, there are. And this is Hedden’s solution:
    “She attended a meeting at Community Board 6 to try to stop the Parks Department from covering the St. Vartan Park blacktop ball field, at 35th Street between Second and First Avenues, with artificial-grass turf.

    “We tried to say that they’re taking away 12 pickleball courts,” she recalled.

    We get it, Hedden. To hell with grassy turf for the community to enjoy. Bring in 12 pickleball courts for you to earn money from. After all, it’s all about YOU and your hubristic sense of self-entitlement.

    Indeed, her LinkedIn account indicates she is a PAID certified pickleball instructor

    So is she using our public playgrounds for her own private profiteering? Ms. Hedden, please explain.

    I have no real stake in this game. I have no kids.

    But I do use the benches outside of Passanante to sit and relax. The kids playing basketball, or the teens skateboarding, or the young adults playing hockey never, ever bothered me.

    But since these pickleheads invaded Passanante, the resulting constant cacophony from the constant pinging has become unbearable.

    And will someone please tell Ms. Hedden that there is no public restroom at Passanante.

    So, as unpleasant as it may be for her New Jersey sensibilities, kids have been peeing against that wall for generations.

    See, Ms. Hedden, it is not all about YOU.

    • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | October 18, 2022

      She said she previously lived in Jersey.

  7. SoHo West SoHo West October 18, 2022

    Ms Hedden found her recent pickle ball calling in New Jersey, and appears to be a current resident of New Jersey, despite her claims of “living uptown”.

    Her paid testimonial for an injury resulting from pickle ball:

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