The light-hearted and tight-knit pickleballing community in Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side of New York has been embroiled in some ugly and controversial scenes lately.
“The Pickleball Doctor”
Accusations of antisemitism, among other things, have caused escalating tension in the group. These disagreements eventually led to more than 80 Upper East Side pickleball players assembling in Carl Schurz Park last weekend to address these issues.
Albert, known by some as “Albert, the Pickleball Doctor,” believes the aggravation stems from the condescending attitudes of more seasoned players towards those of lower skill levels.
However, Albert’s adversaries hold a contrary view. They christened him “Adolf the Pickleball Dictator,” asserting a heavy-handed demeanor.
A Victim Of His Own Success
In certain respects, Albert is a victim of his own success.
Ever since he commenced the early morning ritual of setting up three pickleball courts at Carl Schurz Park over a year ago, the sport has seen a stratospheric rise in popularity.
According to Albert’s estimation, up to 300 avid pickleball enthusiasts frequent the courts daily, a demand met by recent city-funded refurbishments.
This burgeoning interest has given rise to a schism. Advanced players, citing protracted wait times and potential pairing with less skilled participants.
On the one hand, Albert, representing the faction advocating for equal access in a public park with limited court space, asserts a broader inclusivity.
This contention has led to several flashpoints, including instances of players refusing to yield courts after their allotted time and an incident where Albert substituted other nets during a game as per his morning routine.
The comparison of Albert to Adolf Hitler in an online pickleball group, along with the accompanying manipulated image, drew widespread outrage. Matters escalated to a point where players feared an altercation at the meeting on October 1st.
The courts came into existence last summer spurred by a personal loss. Following the passing of his mother in November 2022, Albert decided he wanted to do something that would benefit his local community.
Recognizing the underutilized space at Carl Schurz Park, he, along with his brother Gilbert, introduced pickleball, attracting a growing crowd. Their efforts eventually led to the expansion from one to three nets.
“After a month and a half, we went from one net to three,” says Albert.
He has since then prepared the courts for the day’s play almost every morning, transporting the three nets on his customized bicycle. He then leaves and comes back at nightfall to pack everything up.
He rather self-effacingly remarks, “It’s not a big deal.”
Positive Community Endeavor
Albert also took the time and trouble to make some repairs to some cracks that had appeared on one of the courts, an effort acknowledged by a passing police officer as a positive community endeavor.
As the pickleball community grew to nearly 600 thanks to a WhatsApp chat group, Albert’s role became pivotal, earning him recognition from Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright and a subsequent city-led refurbishment of the court area.
For Albert, it’s about the community at large, not merely his individual involvement.
Jeanine Beck, now a close friend, talked about the sense of camaraderie that has flourished around the courts.
However, tensions arose with the influx of players. Advanced participants advocated for reserved time on a “challenge court,” arguing that the wait times were disproportionate to the quality of play. This proposal clashed with those advocating for open access to the courts.
The dispute manifested in various incidents, with each side accusing the other. The debate even descended into the unsavory comparison, further exacerbating tensions.
Despite the heated exchanges, a sense of unity and hope emerged from the gathering of 80 players, signifying a positive turn. According to Kathryn Hedden, the meeting was a constructive initial step toward resolution.
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