Residents happily return to the courts

Marie O’Hara, of the Village Santiago, takes aim on the pickleball as she and Tony Salerno, left, also of the Village Santiago, were able to return to the courts Monday at El Santiago Recreation Center.

A little rain couldn’t keep Dave Howard away from what he had been missing for weeks. The Village of Summerhill resident was one of countless residents who enjoyed yet another wave of amenities on Monday, as The Villages Recreation and Parks Department continued its measured approach to reopening recreation facilities. The department offered up the use of its five softball complexes along with its court sports facilities on Monday. “It’s been a day I’ve been looking forward to for what seems like forever now,” said Howard, who tossed a softball back and forth with friend, John Mavens, late Monday morning at Buffalo Glen Softball Complex. “A lot of time spent hoping to get back out here and enjoy some of these things again. I’m glad it’s finally here — even if there’s a little bit of rain.”

Venues for activities such as pickleball, platform tennis, tennis, beach tennis sand volleyball also were big hits Monday.

“I was getting claustrophobic and it’s just exciting to be able to talk to people, see people out and about,” said Village of Collier resident Pam Hunt, as she waited in line for a pickleball game at Eisenhower Recreation Center. “The way it’s set up is working very well, so I’m happy … I’m excited.”

Players remained patient in lines — staggered 6 feet apart — for their respective turns to use the reopened courts at many locations.

“I was very excited,” said Marie Fuchs, of the Village of Collier, who enjoyed doubles action with members of the Fun and Friendly tennis group. “Friday, I was here swimming laps and they were pressure washing the courts. I had to come over. It was like, ‘We’re in.’”

For Marc Roer, of the Village of Pine Ridge, a return to his beloved activity of beach tennis was a welcome relief at SeaBreeze Recreation Center.

“Nothing compares to this,” Roer said. “I couldn’t wait. I wouldn’t say I’m very athletic, but I do enjoy sports, so it was good to get out of the house.”

As with all of its reopening procedures, the recreation department has implemented measures in place to keep participants safe. At pickleball courts, guidelines dictate courts will be limited to 50% capacity, while the use of individual balls — all of which are then sanitized after a round of play — help prevent cross-contamination between players rotating after each game.

“People have been very understanding,” said Reilly Reinhold, a recreation assistant at Eisenhower Recreation Center. “(They’re) very civil about rotating on and off the courts. It’s been pretty smooth so far, and most people are willing to listen to the rules and abide by them.”

And abiding by the new guidelines revealed itself to be a shared sentiment by most — if not all — of those who returned to their amenities Monday throughout the community.

“Everyone out here is being respectful and abiding by the rules,” said Pauline Bolwell, a Village of Gilchrist resident who enjoyed some platform tennis action at Eisenhower Recreation Center. “It’s such a relief to release all of the pent-up body feelings from in the house. I think it’s going to help a lot mentally, people being able to get out and do things again.”

The department also reopened the Savannah Center computer lab, the Mark Twain Library and made table tennis amenities available once again, continuing its step-by-step approach in allowing residents to return to their active lifestyles.

“They’ve been very understanding because we can’t open it up fully,” said Nelson Pouliot, a recreation assistant at SeaBreeze Recreation Center. “We can only allow so many people — it’s a week-by-week process. Overall, everything went smooth.”​​