Pickleball, soccer, and futsal now also between the lines

Airport Fitness adds three new ports to tennis courts.

Courtesy Rafaella Silva

Success is a reward of reinvention, and Airport Fitness is taking off in a new direction right now.

The 24-year-old center has specialized in fitness workouts and tennis use on its comfortably large three-court indoor facility, and those uses remain unchanged, but director Connie McHugh is adding three new sports: pickleball, soccer, and futsal (we’ll explain that one in a minute).

“There may be more uses, such as basketball and badminton. Where we go depends on what people want us to do,” McHugh said this week. As the owner and founder of the sports facility, McHugh has constantly tweaked her offerings in exercise, training, and teaching.

McHugh has almost 35 years of teaching experience, and the former tennis pro, coaching-certified by the U.S. Professional Tennis Association, coached the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) girls tennis team, 2011 to 2015, to postseason play.

Think grinning emojis for early results from the pickleball addition. “We painted pickleball lines on two of the tennis courts in mid-October, and players have been showing up in droves,” McHugh said. “It’s a consistent year-round venue. Obviously, we’re not impacted by weather.” Pickleball has become an Island craze in recent years, and two outdoor courts at the senior center in Oak Bluffs are crowded with players in good-weather months.The players often move to the Boys and Girls Club in winter. 

McHugh has been careful to calibrate days and times to accommodate the long-term tennis community and the new gamers. “Tennis generates a morning/evening schedule for court time. Pickleball is a midday demand sport, so they dovetail nicely,” she said, adding, “Our third tennis court can be taped for pickleball, depending on demand.”

Pickleballers can show up between 11:30 am and 12:30 pm on Mondays and Wednesdays and play for $5. Groups can reserve a court at night for 90 minutes for $10 a player, McHugh said.
“We’ve topped out at 20 a day, so sometimes we schedule two picklebll sessions. In 2020, we are going to offer teaching clinics, from beginners to experienced players looking to fine-tune their game,” she said.

McHugh is open to the idea of pickleball leagues, but doesn’t see it matching the community. “The pickleball culture is winners/losers. That is, the winners of a match continue to play, and the losers rotate out and wait for a new game to open up, though some players rent a court for their own group,” she said.

McHugh has also been able to slot full-court indoor soccer and futsal times into the Airport Fitness schedule. “If you were here tonight [Monday], you’d see 25 guys playing regulation soccer,” McHugh said, noting that smaller spaces are used for futfal, another cool pastime.

Futsal, also called futfal, was developed more than 80 years ago in Spain and Portugal as an indoor game on a hardwood floor (52 by 82 feet, typically), with five players a side, emphasizing soccer foot and ball-handling skills at high speed in small spaces. Futsal uses a smaller, harder ball and a smaller net than regulation soccer dimensions. The sport picked up major momentum in the 1980s and ’90s, and is now a major international pastime, with a World Cup and national rivalries.

“In futsal there are no offsides or out of bounds. It’s a different strategy than soccer. Our players are adults now, but we’re going to reach out to the Island youth soccer programs to see if there is an appetite for kids to learn soccer skills, or for older kids to work on their skills in the off-season,” McHugh said.

“We are leaving the book. We got two programs done this year, and what happens going forward depends on what people request,” she said.