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Judge rules pickleball at Rockford's Sinnissippi Park is not a nuisance

posted Jan 15, 2014, 12:54 PM by Northern Illinois Pickleball   [ updated Jan 15, 2014, 12:54 PM ]

Gordy Spriggs of Rockford plays in the final of the mixed-generation doubles Saturday, July 30, 2011, during the Northern Illinois Pickleball Round Robin Tournament at Sinnissippi Park in Rockford.ROCKFORD - Pickleball is not a nuisance and can continue to be played at Sinnissippi Park, a Winnebago County judge has decided.

17th Judicial Circuit Judge Eugene Doherty ruled in favor of the Rockford Park District and against neighbors who wanted to put a stop to the sound of wooden paddles striking plastic pickleballs at the park.

The district's first outdoor pickleball courts opened inside Sinnissippi Park in September 2010 after two tennis courts were converted for the growing sport. Two neighbors immediately complained of the noise from players and paddles and filed a lawsuit in June 2012 to try to force the district to shut down the courts.

"While pickleball was not played there when plaintiffs moved into the neighborhood, surely they knew that they were moving in proximity to a large park," Doherty wrote in his decision issued before today's scheduled status call. "Part of living next to this particular park is that neighbors will experience sounds of picnickers at the pavilions, or children at the playground, or music from the bandshell or tennis from the tennis courts."

Read the full decision.

Sinnissippi Park is the district's oldest and largest park. It's home to a golf course, playground, band shell, pickleball courts and seasonal activities like the Festival of Lights and, right now, snow sculpting.

"Plantiffs are mistaken, however, if they feel that they have the right to lock the district into those activities, and only those, which existed at the time they became neighbors," Doherty wrote.

Neighbors Jeanette Haskell and Barbara Friel had filed the suit saying that "the noise filters into every part of their property and household" and interferes with their ability to enjoy their property. Friel, whose backyard borders the area near pickleball courts, testified during a two-day trial that the "ping" of the plastic ball hitting the paddle was "penetrating" and "sharp." She used to be an avid gardener, but neglected it to avoid the noise from games played in the early morning, afternoon and evening. Haskell, 87, died July 20 and her daughter testified on her behalf.

Two other neighbors also testified during the trial, including one who lived further than the two plaintiffs but found the noise just as objectionable. Rudy Valdez, whose property is closer to the courts than Friel's, testified that he didn't find the noise annoying and noted noise from North Second Street and the band shell can also be heard even when windows are closed, according to Doherty's decision. Jay Sandine of the district testified that there were no other noise complaints at either Sinnissippi or the Loves Park pickleball courts.

Pickleball players recognize that some people feel the sports signature noise can be bothersome. Noise complaints have followed new pickleball courts in several sites across the country, and manufacturers have worked to develop quieter paddles.

"The noise is very tolerable," said Chuck Kurt, Rockford's ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association. "There's no lights (at Sinnissippi), so its limited by daylight. We don't start before eight in the morning. It's really not that big of a deal."

Kevin Haas: 815-987-1410;; @KevinMHaas January 15. 2014 1:37PM

PHOTO/ SCOTT MORGAN | RRSTAR.COM - Gordy Spriggs of Rockford plays in the final of the mixed-generation doubles Saturday, July 30, 2011, during the Northern Illinois Pickleball Round Robin Tournament at Sinnissippi Park in Rockford.