On some Friday nights at the St. Petersburg shuffleboard courts, people of all ages wait up to an hour for an available court. But they don’t seem to mind as those waiting like to socialize and families even pack a picnic for the wait.
“Why can’t it happen here?” Bradenton Shuffleboard Social Club founder Tony Ricci asked.
Ricci grew up across from the Bradenton courts at 1525 Ballard Park Drive, and he used to watch his grandfather play in tournaments in front of large crowds cheering on the players. But over time, the sport began to fade and Bradenton’s facility was left to a handful of dedicated players.
Even the city wasn’t sure it wanted the old courts anymore. In 2006, the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority wanted the courts moved to Lakewood Ranch to make room for a new development, but the idea was eventually rejected. Still, Ricci and his wife have been going to St. Pete to play shuffleboard for the past few years because of the vibrant atmosphere.
He started the Bradenton Shuffleboard Social Club a couple of years ago to help the court’s board of directors renew support for the sport. Ricci eventually connected with Realize Bradenton — in particular, Catherine Ferrer, community event coordinator.
Realize Bradenton believed in and supported efforts to renew enthusiasm in the downtown facility. Ferrer was a finalist in last year’s Knight Cities Challenge competition with a project called “Play Social: Re-imagining the shuffleboard park for all generations.”
Ferrer’s concept is to bridge the gap by bringing millennials and baby boomers together and to introduce the younger generations to shuffleboard fun and socialization.
Ferrer held a successful pop-up event at the courts. And Ferrer’s goals of bridging the generation gap is working because the older club members are enjoying teaching the game to younger fans.
“I saw what was going on and it was wonderful,” Ricci said. “People have been coming to our social events and just want a nice night on the town and to do something different. There was some concern that younger people would come and weren’t going to take the game seriously, but to my surprise, the majority of those coming want to learn the game.”
The city has taken notice and discussions are underway to further Ferrer’s original project, help the social club and make the courts a better asset.
“It’s a shame the Realize Bradenton project didn’t get the funding,” said Carl Callahan, city administrator. “If we are going to have a shuffleboard court, then it should be a great shuffleboard court and an asset to the city.”
For the age of the courts, they are in good condition. Ricci said the courts “were built as professional courts and they are considered to be among the best in the state.”
He would like to see the city invest in more cleanup around the courts, as well as adding security lights and court covers to protect them from rainstorms so play can continue after the rain stops. The club collects dues that go toward general maintenance, but it’s not enough for major improvements. Ferrer remains committed to the cause, as well.
“There’s an old saying that if you want to get somewhere fast go alone, if you want to get somewhere far, go together,” she said. “This might take a while, but we knew what an amazing group was already here. I can’t say enough about the people who are the real driving force here. It’s something Realize Bradenton supports and is happy to see, and I hope to see the community take the initiative and make these courts the downtown asset it can be.”
For updates on upcoming social events at the courts, visit the Bradenton Shuffleboard Social Club on Facebook or contact the Bradenton Shuffleboard Club at 941-747-6184 or visit Realize Bradenton at realizebradenton.com.