WINTHROP — Recreational programs in Winthrop have changed during the pandemic, but the joy they bring adults and children has not.

“The first week we opened, we did an art program,” said Lonney Steeves, the town’s recreation director and director of the Winthrop Area YMCA. “That first day, we had spread out enough in our location. When the kids started showing up, the smiles on their faces were amazing.”

Adults are also getting into the act, aligning with the town’s motto-turned-initiative, “Winthrop Plays Outside.” That motto was evidenced Sunday by the shuffling of feet and the clunk of racquets hitting plastic balls during a pickleball game.

Steeves said the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for recreation programs and forced officials to head into fall with reduced revenue streams from reduced attendance.

Zach Whitestone, 20, left, returns a shot while Don Dallaire, 71, looks on during a pickleball game Sunday at Winthrop Area YMCA. Kennebec Journal photo by Sam Shepherd

“There were some families that chose not to participate in activities this summer,” he said. “That was to be expected.”

Participants at Sunday’s pickleball game said the town’s numerous outdoor programs were necessary for children and contributed to the town’s overall appeal.

Steeves said this summer has been “completely different” compared to the rest of his 38 years at the YMCA.

“We had to make a lot of adjustments,” he said. “Taking everybody’s temperature when they came, providing hand sanitizer, sanitizing equipment. That was a big part of the summer.”

Despite the adjustments, Steeves said more than 300 children participated in arts-and-craft events and sports camps. One of the most successful programs, Steeves said, was baseball, even though there was no formal league or all-star tournament, like normal.

“We had four or five dads that stepped up to coach it,” he said, adding the players were responsible for bringing their own bats and helmets. “The last two weeks, they played pickup games against each other. (Parents said) it was one of (their) favorite summers of baseball.”

The town also has a “Winthrop Plays Outside” initiative, which offers programs for residents of all ages. As part of that program, a pickup pickleball game was held Sunday morning. At about 9 a.m., husband-and-wife team David and Maureen Whitestone faced off against its son, Zach, 20, and Don Dallaire, 71, with the latter team picking up the first win of the day.

At the end of the game, the players sportingly touched their racquets, which is a tradition for the game and not a coronavirus-related alternative to a handshake.

All four players said they have been playing pickleball for about four years, and regularly play during the week with a group of about eight people. The game competitors of all ages because the racquets are light, the courts are small and a wide range of motion is not necessary.

“If you come during the week, it’s an older crowd,” Dallaire said.

“You can play it at different speeds,” Maureen Whitestone said.

Maureen Whitestone, 58, returns a shot during a pickleball game Sunday at the Winthrop Area YMCA. Kennebec Journal photo by Sam Shepherd

“It’s easy to play,” David Whitestone, a former racquetball player, said. “It’s not easy to play well.”

The Whitestones said their children participated in numerous local YMCA programs when they were younger, including tennis, kayaking and archery. She said she has seen numerous people playing games outdoors during the pandemic.

“You come down here and there were people playing tennis and people playing basketball,” Maureen Whitestone said. “You do activities that keep you at a distance.”

Steeves said some changes to the YMCA’s programming could stick around after the pandemic, including running some programs at night and increased attention to keeping equipment clean and sanitized.

“It was a little more fun to change our timing or how long a program ran,” he said. “It gave us a real good sense of (how many) people touch pieces of equipment.”

Steeves said fall programming is a moving target for the YMCA because program attendance has reduced, resulting in less income for the organization. He said the YMCA regularly adapts to changes and will “put together some plans” for fall youth activities.

“We haven’t had much income since March, so we’re on pretty tight strings right now,” he said. “I’ve been (at the YMCA) for 38 years and we’ve been a chameleon along the way, so we’re going to try and figure something out.”

Maureen Whitestone said it was important to fund recreation programs, including “Winthrop Plays Outside” and the YMCA programs, during the pandemic. David Whitestone said the family canceled its YMCA membership last month, but paid before canceling as a donation to the organization.

“They do rely on revenue from people signing up for camps,” Maureen Whitestone said. “You can’t just let the programs go just because your numbers are down. You have to find another additional source of funding.”

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