Dispute heats up between pickleball players and parents and kids at North Side park

Leslie Miller, left, started a petition to remove the pickleball courts at Bauler Park. Pickle ball player Lisa Davis wants to expand pickle ball hours at the neighborhood park.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Things have gotten a little nasty between pickleball players and kids and their parents who accuse each other of encroaching on space at a small park in the Old Town neighborhood.

The dispute is playing out at Bauler Park, at the corner of Wisconsin and Mohawk streets, where a slab of concrete was lined with pickleball courts during the pandemic.

Pickleball is allowed at the park between noon and 2 p.m. and 6 and 8 p.m. everyday but Sunday. No pickleball on Sundays.

Leslie Miller said a group of pickleball players, particularly older players, have been intimidating kids who play at the park. One woman called her 10-year-old son, who was trying to play kickball, an “a—hole” and told him to stop getting in their way.

“Another adult snatched a ball away from a child,” said Miller, 43, who started an online petition in early February seeking to have pickleball banned from the park.

“They have to go,” said Miller, a stay-at-home mom.

More than 500 people have signed the petition titled “Save Chicago’s Bauler Park from the Pickleball Takeover” at change.org.

Last fall, Lisa Davis, an avid pickleball player, used the same website to create a petition in favor of pickleball at the park. It’s titled “Save Pickleball at Chicago’s Bauler Park” and it also has more than 500 signatures.

Davis, 48, a former neighborhood resident who now lives in Streeterville, estimates 100 players — mostly from the neighborhood — use the park’s three courts. Games during the allotted hours are organized through an app called Team Reach that’s used by players across the city and nation to organize matches.

“I can tell you right now that no one from our group has ever yelled or raised a voice to a parent or kid at the park,” she said. “If kids are using the space when we arrive, we wait. And if kids go on the court during a game we won’t resume playing until they’re off the court.”

She said parents have told their children on multiple occasions to go on courts to interrupt games.

“We’re harassed. One parent yelled and call one of our players a child abuser,” she said. “Which is ridiculous, we’re the ones who help police and tell players outside of our group not to use the courts outside of the posted hours and to be respectful,” Davis said.

“They want that park as their own personal backyard. They should get a [real estate agent] and buy a house in Naperville with a backyard,” she said. “The park is for everyone.”

“I think the challenge is some parents see the space exclusively for their kids, while the pickle ballers believe it’s for recreational use,” said Dana Ringer, Bauler Park Advisory Council president.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Pickleball has become the city’s and nation’s fastest-growing sport.

Last fall, the park district announced plans to construct 50 new pickleball courts in parks across the city by 2025, which would raise the total number of courts in the city to more than 100. 

Chicago Park District spokesman Michele Lemons said in an email that it’s “committed to balancing the needs and interests of the community surrounding Bauler Park, which includes a plan for dedicated space and times for pickleball while maintaining open space for other recreational activities.”   

Lemons didn’t answer additional questions.

After a community meeting last fall, the park district shortened the evening hours of play by an hour.

It didn’t resolve the issue.

“Emotions are elevated,” said Dana Ringer, Bauler Park Advisory Council president.

“I think the challenge is some parents see the space exclusively for their kids, while the pickle ballers believe it’s for recreational use. Our goal as an advisory council is to help find a compromise for the neighborhood so we can all enjoy the park,” Ringer said.

“That’s why last fall we brought all interested parties together with representatives from the Park District. We hope they will come up with an acceptable compromise soon.”

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