When COVID-19 shut down the CLC YMCA in March 2020, a loyal group of pickleball players found themselves with nowhere to play. After nearly three months of not playing the game they loved, and missing the camaraderie of their pickleball group, they formed their own group and started playing year round on the Jefferson community courts, located next to the Jefferson Village School.
Now in their second winter of play, the laid back group call themselves the Midcoast Polar Bear Pickleballers. They consist of 24 to 30 players, and in the summer when snowbirds return, their numbers swell even higher.
Two pickleball courts fit on a tennis court, so in the summer when the tennis net is up, it serves as a divider between two courts. In warmer weather, the group sets up three courts by expanding into the basketball court. Players bring their own pickleball nets and set them up each day they play.
In the winter, an orange type snow fence and snow separate the two courts. The first to arrive clear the court of ice and snow. It is not unusual for players to show up a day in advance and shovel the courts.
“People just show up and clear them when they can,” Midcoast Polar Bear Pickleball coordinator Susan Lewis said.
Lewis said once someone showed up with a “flame thrower” to melt the ice on the court.
Player Peter Wells said the coldest they have played in was around 17 degrees. On Jan. 6, a dozen players took turns playing on two courts in 37-degree weather with a steady cold wind off nearby Damariscotta Lake.
“When it is windy, we laugh until we are crying almost. The ball is a glorified whiffle ball and when it is windy it goes everywhere,” Wells said.
“We laugh more than anything. It is a fun group, we are competitive but have fun,” Wells added.
Lewis said they try to play at least three days a week. Most of their group played at the CLC Y before it shut down. In 2021, everyone had to wear a mask while playing. Now, masks are no longer required, but everyone must be vaccinated to play.
Lewis said the number of days a week they play depends on the weather and when people are available. They communicate through emails to set up play dates.
“Last year no one ever said ‘I don’t want to play because it is too cold.’ Last Monday (Jan. 3), was the only day,” Lewis said of the 4-degree temperatures that kept people from gathering on the courts.
“We are pretty hardy,” Lewis said of the group, which consist of mostly retirees from all over Lincoln County.
Another pickleball group also plays on Jefferson’s tennis court, which is organized by Sally Hussey.
“We coordinate with them. We like to play in the morning and they in the afternoon. Her group is more competitive than we are,” Lewis said.
“We are a low key fun group. We do this for exercise and to have fun,” Lewis added.