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I Got Next!??

“I got next!”, the slogan of the PFA, has a different meaning in Midland Beach, Staten Island. A player can’t simply pick the court and partner he or she likes and wait it out until it’s time to get on (zzzzz….). Is this unfair? Maybe. But Staten Island has long had its unique system of playground paddleball that has spanned generations and it has remained intact, just like when it started in the ’70’s! And I think the advantages make it terrific. This is how it works:

The three pillars of the system are fast scoring, rotational courts and “you don’t pick your own partner”. Fast scoring means a point is scored by either team when it wins a rally, not just when serving. Rotational is more complicated. I’ll describe the rotational system as applied with 18 players and 4 available courts:

  • Courts 1, 2, 3 and 4 are designated. Usually the “best” court (most often favorable sun conditions) is Court 1, and the others ranked accordingly.
  • Games on each court start at the same time.
  • After all four games are concluded, the winners of Court 1 stay on this court. The winners of the other games advance to the next court and the losers drop down to the lower court. In other words, the next game on Court 2 is played with the losers of Court 1 against the winners of Court 3. The losers of the last Court (4), drop out and have next and the 2 players who waited during the first game come on to Court 4 against the losers of Court 3.
  • If a winning team decides to drop out, the losing team stays on (if on Court 1) or advances as though they won (other courts). All other teams advance one notch.

The number of courts played on obviously depends on the number of players available. Games are formed based on arrival times of players. With less than 18 players, the most amount of players waiting for next is 3.

How does “you don’t pick your own partner” work?

Partners are matched up in the order that they arrive at the courts. The first two play together, second two together, and so on. An odd person waits for the next person to arrive. If two people arrive together, and there is an odd person waiting, they flip a coin to determine who plays with the odd person. (This means that if you plan to arrive with your regular partner in order to play together, you have only a 50% chance of teaming up with your buddy.). Additionally: If you lose on the last court and only 1 person has next, you flip with your partner to see who goes back on the last court to play with him or her. If a player drops out, and the partner wants to continue playing, the remaining player must play with the next person waiting to play.

When the system is up and running, new players who arrive can say “I got next!”, but they can have next only on the last court and they must go to the end of the line behind any players waiting. As teams lose on the last court, they go to the end of the line as well. If no one is waiting, the losers of the last court go back on to this court. If there are more than approximately 3 players waiting for next, “The List” is created. Players sign in and play in the proper order. Again, since you don’t pick your own partner, teams are configured based on the order of the players waiting.

That’s it in a nutshell. Does it always work exactly like this? Of course not! I’ll go over some of the variations afterward, but first let’s discuss why this system has served Staten Island well over the decades.

The advantage of fast scoring in conjunction with rotational lies in the fact that when the games all start together they all end within minutes of each other. With regular scoring, a game can last anywhere between 10 and 45 minutes. With such a variation, the rotational system would not work with regular scoring because the dead time between games is compounded among all the players. But the rotational system combined with fast scoring makes for clean, crisp action with minimal dead time.

“You don’t pick your own partner” also greatly reduces dead time. In almost every park outside of Staten Island, you come down to the courts and check out the games and decide where you want to play based on who is playing, the wait time and the level of competition. You say “I got next!” and it’s “I”, not “we”. You are not obligated to play with the other waiting players. You can play with your regular partner who arrives at the last minute or came off another court while you were waiting. You can even pick a loser from the game you are waiting for! If there are 5 people waiting, you may wait 5 games. This means more and more dead time and it can create some animosity for people not chosen.

Yes, the better players often want to have their “elite” game, but with fast scoring, rotational and “you don’t pick your own partner”, Court 1 in short order becomes an elite court and it’s quite an achievement to have a winning streak there as “King of the Court”. Plus, you put in lots more playing time and play many more games against different players in the course of a day.

What are some of the variations and sources of discontent?

Three waiting. When 3 people have next we usually will declare “3 on”, meaning the losers from the next to last court flip to determine who must sit, thus allowing 3 players come on to play on the last court. This is often not popular with the player who lost the flip.

Incompatible partners. Accommodations will occasionally be made in situations where two players would rather not play together, such as 2 lefties.

Must play together. This could happen if a player brings a friend or relative to the courts who is inexperienced or unfamiliar with the other players. He or she may be allowed to play with this person. Or perhaps two players who are getting ready to play together in a tournament will be accommodated.

Finagling for partners. In order to circumvent the “you don’t pick your own partner” rule, all sorts of finagling sometimes takes place. Other players don’t always take it with a smile.

The elitists. The theme of this system is that everyone at the park plays together. There is no “A” “B” or “C” game. Some players are not entirely happy with this and have “broken away” at times.

The arguers. Some players are notorious for prolonging games by engaging in repeated disputes during play (no names mentioned here!). This prolongs the game and the problem is compounded by upsetting the rhythm of the rotational system, which affects everyone.

Change to regular scoring. While fast scoring is fine and trust me, you get used to it, the paddleball purists sometimes prefer regular scoring. Years ago, when the games started early in the morning, 12 noon marked the switch to regular scoring. At that point many of the players had departed and this usually worked well because all agreed to play “long”. However present day, the games start later and once in awhile, two teams about to play will “play long” without telling anyone. This is not good! Obviously dead time is increased. Proper etiquette at Midland Beach dictates that the decision to play long should be mutually agreeable to all.

When did you get here? Here’s a good one: Is time of arrival determined when you park your car or when you emerge through the gate on to the court proper? Also, there are 3 entrances to the Midland Beach courts, and without the benefit of instant slo-mo replays it is sometimes difficult to know who arrived first. Sometimes we need to ask for an outside call on these.

Well that’s it. Maybe this system isn’t for everyone. However it has proven to be successful and survived literally for generations. If you come to the courts to hang out and socialize, the Staten Island system may not be for you. But if you come for continuous action, I think you’ll like it! Despite its drawbacks, I believe the advantages outweigh them. Other paddleball groups should consider adopting our system.

I got next!??