Nancy McKeon by Dave Siegel
Staten Island has a secret it has hidden from the paddleball world for decades. It’s Nancy McKeon. She is far and away the best woman paddleball player in Staten Island and every player on the Island knows it. We all believe she could compete successfully against any of the outstanding women players in the game today. Never heard of her? Well that’s understandable because Nancy almost never plays or competes off Staten Island.
Nancy has been playing paddleball for 37 years and presently plays 3-4 times/week at the Midland Beach courts. Her interest was originally sparked by her future husband, Kevin McKeon, who is also one of the top players on the Island. She is the stalwart player for the weekday Island group and also plays with the weekend group. Nancy is always competing against skilled men players and “holding her own” is a gross understatement. She is one of the best right-side righty players on Staten Island, bar none. Nancy rarely makes an unforced error, is a supreme defensive player and almost always hits the ball to the right spot. She makes incredible gets, has a terrific left hand and has deadly put-aways, especially killers in the left corner. Nancy thrives on the competition and plays with that never-give-up attitude, while almost never arguing and always playing fair. And how about this: She uses a wooden paddle! And she plays almost exclusively small ball.
I asked Nancy if she has ever wanted to play competitively against the top players in the city to achieve recognition. She replied that she just loves paddleball, it gets her up in the morning, keeps her in shape and she enjoys the camaraderie of the players. That’s all she needs and it’s what drives her. She says she doesn’t have any desire to make a name for herself.
What about that wooden paddle? It is really a club, very heavy, completely covered with tape and get this: She has been using the same paddle for 37 years. I don’t mean the same model, but the same piece of wood! She said she tried the modern paddles, but never could find one that gave her the hit she gets with her wooden one.
Why small ball? Big ball is reputed to be the better choice for women because it’s a softer game. The answer is obvious: Small ball is the only ball that is played on the Island. She has played big ball at Garfield Park in Florida a few times and fared well. Her prowess at small ball is a further testimonial to her skill level.
Another indication of her paddleball proficiency and competitiveness is her surprising answer to my question as to whether she had ever experienced any resentment to her playing in “mens” games. She said she never had, not even way back decades ago when women were not as well accepted in men’s sports as they are today.
So there you have it. Staten Island’s Nancy McKeon. Unfortunately if you want to see her in action, or play against her, you must make the trek over the Verrazano Bridge ($17 toll unless you have EZ Pass!) But it will be well worth it!