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Finding A Niche

Pickleball expanding into Cassadaga area

Submitted Photo Pictured above are pickleball players on a 35-degree day at Cassadaga beach. In front, from left, are: Dave Lawson and Jill Lawson. In middle, from left, are: Susan Asquith, Roxanne Astry and Lisa White. In back, from left, are: Lisa Monacelli and Scott Bristol.

CASSADAGA — While COVID-19 has caused disruptions for the majority of sports in all age groups, the pandemic has also forced changes in new directions for plenty of athletes.

Thanks to the efforts of Citizens For A Better Cassadaga, pickleball is continuing to grow its footprint in northern Chautauqua County amongst a new group of players.

The game, which is played in a tennis doubles format on a smaller court using paddles and Wiffle balls, has already grown in popularity amongst groups that regularly play at the Lakewood YMCA and in Bemus Point.

This summer Ed Kirchmeyer and Fred Privitere of Northern Chautauqua Pickleball offered to teach the game to new players in Cassadaga.

“I had no pickleball experience, and quite a few of the people who have started playing had no pickleball experience,” said Susan Asquith. “Some folks did. We kind of started at different levels, but we are all progressing along the same way with Ed and Fred’s coaching and just playing.”

See PICKLEBALL, Page B3

A little over a year ago, Asquith made the move back to her native Cassadaga from Buffalo to be with her family. Despite coming from an athletic background, she had no experience with the sports that often translate to pickleball — tennis, squash, racquetball and ping-pong.

“I knew nothing and most people that started playing really didn’t know anything about the game. It was great,” she said.

Asquith quickly discovered what many pickleball players will tell you, that the game is easy to learn and a great way to exercise inside or outdoors.

After an introduction from Kirchmeyer and Privitere, Citizens For a Better Cassadaga funded the striping of a pickleball court outdoors at Cassadaga beach.

Up until winter weather truly came to Western New York a few weeks ago, the Cassadaga contingent continued to enjoy the game outdoors.

“It is a not-for-profit group that comes up with and organizes, manages and creates events for residents and non-residents,” Asquith said of CFBC. “Pickleball was something that everyone wanted to do so they funded the taping off of a court on the basketball court at the beach. Then they went ahead and bought balls and paddles for folks and just started putting out Facebook messages.”

The group of players now established in Cassadaga has shifted to St. Anthony’s Church hall in Fredonia for the winter, playing on Mondays and Wednesdays from 5:30-9 p.m. with a limit of 20 players per night.

Players looking for more competitive games hold sessions at St. Anthony’s on Tuesday and Thursday.

“First and foremost it is for fun,” Asquith said. “The camaraderie and the level of play — everyone is advancing at their own level — it has been great. Meeting people that you didn’t know. It is a mix of Cassadaga and Fredonia people, or others who want to play.”

Like other sports played at a distance, pickleball has been able to handle COVID-19 restrictions easier than other games.

“It is very COVID stringent. When you are not playing you are wearing a mask. All of the balls after each game get sanitized, all the paddles get sanitized,” Asquith said. “You don’t feel intimidated. There is no intimidation factor whatsoever. It is amazing, whenever someone hits a great shot, everyone is excited and enthusiastic about it. You never really know who you are going to be playing with, so you’ve got to be on your game. You get that competitive spirit.”

In addition to drawing players from racquet sports, pickleball is also easy to organize with a mixture of players regardless of age, gender, experience and competitiveness.

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